RESIDENTS in Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge will see a 16 per cent increase in their town council precept from April following the disclosure of the 2020/21 budget.

At a meeting on February 3 councillors from Burnham and Highbridge Town Council agreed to put the council's budget up from £615,343 this financial year to £718,211 for 2020/2021.

The rise on average Band D households, which equates to £1.16 a month, will enable the town council to recruit extra staff to deal with events, administrative duties and a new Town Ranger to lead grounds staff to help reduce dog fouling and litter in the two towns.

Cllr Mike Facey, chairman of the town council's finances and resources committee, said the new budget is 'ambitious' but he feels it 'lays the foundations to enable improvement.'

"This council is united in its ambition to improve and increase the services it offers to benefit the community," Cllr Facey said.

"This 20/21 budget, put before the council, is a start on that ambitious journey. The budget in previous years has been lean and the council appreciates that if it wants to learn from the successes of other ambitious towns then it must, this coming year, lay the foundations to enable improvement.

"Let’s not forget that we have two towns with two distinct personalities and different needs.

"Two towns is not just a bigger parish, it’s often a doubling of resources, like the provision of Christmas lights. We can’t just buy a longer string of lights, we have to buy two sets with two installations in two locations.

"The 20/21 budget proposals have evolved from continuous discussion since the new council was elected in May last year.

"The council has come together in its ambition to be better prepared to do more in the coming years, whilst being mindful to keep increases in the precept to a minimum through reallocation of reserves and changes to working methods."

Cllr Facey said until recently the council operated through a small staff team working out of one office but they discovered that they needed more staff to take more action in the community to address issues such as dog fouling, beach and street litter, untidy green spaces and obstructed footpaths.

"The council has identified a need for change, to up its game, and has started to set its direction through its emerging Corporate Plan," " Cllr Facey said.

"We have employed a new part-time Projects Officer to help complete outstanding tasks, some of which are years late. The officer is helping to deliver a greater public engagement through events such as the VE Day celebrations, the youth awards and is assisting in promotion of the parish with our partners at visit Somerset and Biars.

"The new part-time Receptionist/Admin Assistant alleviates the admin burden previously carried by a single staff member and allows the senior officers to use their time more efficiently.

"With greater engagement comes a greater volume of enquiries. The admin staff will manage our new website with improved communications, including electronic newsletters and social media functions.

"We want to be pro-active and take control to fix faults where we can, not spend time and money arguing over responsibility with another public body and getting nowhere.

"A skilled Town Ranger who can lead our current grounds staff & help with campaigns to reduce fouling and litter could make a real difference to both towns.

"All staff, from the clerk to the admin support, work together to deliver the council’s resolutions.

"But if we want to keep moving forward and not just treading water doing what we have always done, then we must take a more strategic approach to putting in place a staff team that can deliver.

"With an uncertainty over local government reorganisation and a possibility of devolved functions, we must be alert to staffing capacity and this budget permits us to continue that process."

Somerset County Council will increase its section of the council tax bills by £50 this year while Avon and Somerset Police will levy an additional £10 on top of last year's bills.