LABOUR-controlled Bridgwater Town Council has set its budget for 2021-22 with a pledge to maintain support to community projects, boost reserves and fund continued growth.

The authority plans to spend £1,077,316.12 and raise £878,814.22 in council tax the financial year starting on April 1.

Band D householders will be charged £2.04 a month, while Band A homes will pay £1.36 a month.

Council leader Cllr Brian Smedley said the "modest" rise is needed to maintain services and community facilities, offset Covid losses and build a reserve to protect against future problems while preparing for the unitary upheaval.

He added: "We are an aspiring council and need to raise more money.

"We would do that anyway now that we have taken on more services, such as the cemeteries which used to be run by Sedgemoor, but it's also important to note that the finances have been hit by the Covid emergency. This means we need also to build up reserves.

"Since the removal of the Government support grant, all councils have had to look at income generation, as Sedgemoor have. But of course at town level we don’t have £50 million to invest in properties to earn back rental from, so we have to make what we have work.

"And as responsible community landlords we’ve given our tenants rent holidays and we’ve also taken a hit because we can’t at the moment realise the full potential of the income from the town hall during this time.

"We can’t use the theatre for the pantomimes and stage shows Bridgwater is famous for and that also removes a vast chunk of our income. However, we have allowed the theatre to be used as a Testing Centre for Covid, which is an important resource for the community. Also, the council hasn’t been eligible for any of the of the business grants from Government as we are a local authority. “

Cllr Smedley said the reserves needed to be built up to help pay for the maintenance of several listed buildings and to safeguard services in the future.

He added: "People maybe don’t realise that Bridgwater is one of the lowest precepted town councils per council tax band in the South West...and for an ambitious town our size we need to up that precept if we want to be more than Dibley Parish Council for ever.”

Cllr Smedley said the council would continue its community support, funding community centres, and grants, funding for youth provision and support for arts, culture and heritage projects.

"For us, maintaining our workforce and protecting jobs and services is crucial," he added. "This is why we are proposing a modest increase in precept. We have other major projects this year including Bridgwater Docks, Blake Garden Enhancements and all the other cultural and heritage projects that we continue to support.”

Cllr Diogo Rodrigues, for the Conservatives, said slammed the "staggering" 39 per cent council tax increase, which his party voted against.

He said: "We understand that for many people the struggle is difficult enough and we strongly believe that we should not be burdening our residents with a higher than necessary council tax rate.

"The 39 per cent tax hike voted through by the Labour group is completely wrong and shows that they are out of touch with the exceedingly difficult situation that is felt on the ground."

He added: "At the full council meeting we learnt that all town council property which has been privately leased or rented were not being awarded any rent concessions to help them through this new lockdown.

"We asked for the town clerk to reconsider this. During the last full lockdown in March 2020 the town council provided rent concessions to leased or rented properties and the Conservative group strongly believe that its not only a key source of assistance but the right thing to do when many of our independent businesses have been forced to close again throughout this lockdown.

"We raised our disagreement at a recent decision made at a council meeting which removed the ability for residents to pre-book a burial site at a local cemetery.

"This was a decision which the Conservatives voted against, arguing that the ability to pre-book a site should not be taken away from residents who choose to do so for their, and their families, peace of mind."