COUNCILLORS in Stratton have promised to keep the parish precept rise as low as possible for the coming year.

At a meeting at Grange Leisure on Tuesday night, the Stratton St Margret Parish Council discussed parish taxes for 2018/19.

Last year, the parish council had to make an unprecedented 27 per cent rise in the precept, and there were fears that an equally big increase could be on the cards again.

One parishioner, Andrew Martin, of Lower Stratton, pleaded with councillors to try to make savings and avoid the burden of higher taxes falling on residents.

He said: “I’m not sure if there is a bottomless pit. We can’t go on asking the rich to foot the bill because there are no rich people in Stratton.

“This money has to come from somewhere and I’m not sure if the residents can take much more.”

But councillors reassured Mr Martin that they would do everything they possibly could to keep the precept rise to a bear minimum.

The discussions centred around a possible increase of 24 per cent, which would result in residents having to pay an extra £40.35 per year, or £3.36 per month.

This seemed to be the favoured option, but councillors were visibly uncomfortable about agreeing such an increase.

Seeking to reassure Mr Martin, Coun Joe Tray, chairman of the parish council, said: “We do understand that there is no bottomless pit. The clerk sets a budget that would allow us to carry on with business as normal, and it’s up to us as a council to scrutinise it and reduce the precept if possible.

“We are a large parish council, and one of the only with a leisure centre, which is a large drain on resources, but a very important part of the community.”

Coun Tray pointed out that the borough council has to save £30m over the next few years, and as a result, the parish council has had to take on a greater number of service.

These include the Street Smart services and Beechcroft Road Library, which was saved from closure when the parish council took it over last year.

“We are getting it from all angles at the minute,” said Coun Tray.

“But I can assure you, and the people of Stratton, that we as a council will be looking at ways to save money where we can.”

After an in-depth discussion, Coun Barrie Jennings said: “Clearly, the sentiment in the room is to keep the precept increases as low as possible.”

It was also suggested that a rise of 18 per cent could be a viable option. That would result in residents having to pay an annual increase of £30.26, or ££2.52 per month. But that would require making almost £75,00 worth of cuts to services.

A final decision on the precept was deferred until next week’s full council meeting.

A decision must be made before January 31.