ANDOVER residents are being forced to pay an ‘unfair tax’ which needs to be axed.

That is the call from Andover town councillors who are considering legal action in their bid to axe the Andover Special Levy which raises around £300,000 a year for Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC).

The levy is currently an extra £21.88 charge, for Band D properties, paid by residents in the parish of Andover on top of their usual council tax bill, and is used to pay for services such as cemeteries, playground maintenance and outdoor sports facilities in Andover.

However, some of these facilities are not solely used by those who pay for it - the Andover parish residents.

The levy, also known as the Andover Special Expenses Levy, was introduced when Andover did not have a town council and was used to stop residents who paid their own parish bills across the borough from funding services in Andover.

However, Andover Town Council was formed in April 2010 and has its own precept, of around £20-per-year for Band D properties.

But after years of talks and trying a number of “collaborative approaches” with the borough authority, the town council, in a bid to scrap the levy, has instructed lawyers to pave the way forward.

At a meeting of the town authority on Wednesday, November 14, councillors expressed anger at the charge, with some claiming that TVBC is not taking the matter seriously following a recent letter by the borough council which detailed what the levy pays for.

Councillor Andy Fitchet expressed that the letter was wasting both councils’ time, he said: “It is insulting of the borough council just to fob us off with that.

“They are treating Andover with double standards.”

Councillor Len Gates said: “The current basis is unfair and it is undemocratic,” adding it needs to be decided which items are specific to the town and which are used by those outside the parish.

Councillor Katherine Bird told the meeting such anomalies can be found in the list of levy items.

One such levy item is Andover and Charlton cemeteries, with TVBC stating Charlton is the main cemetery for the people of Andover, but the ground can actually be used by residents from across the borough.

Cllr Bird added: “It is not fair across the borough, it is not fair on Andover residents. This is an unfair tax on Andover residents, it is taxation without representation, Andover residents do not get a say on what is done in Andover.”

With Councillor Lynn Bird adding: “They [TVBC] have almost cherry picked, it seems odd to me that they are saying ‘this is the way it is done’, and ‘we are being fair’ but they are not being fair, they are not treating everyone in Test Valley the same.”

Cllr Katherine Bird said that the “status quo is not an option,” adding: “We have got to be tough and that may mean some costs. There are savings for the town that could easily be recouped and cover those costs.”

Councillor Richard Rowles urged that the town council approach government but it was advised that this had already taken place, and the only avenue left is to take legal action.

It was decided that the council will earmark £8,000 from its reserves this year and £10,000 next year to cover any legal costs.

But members also aired that some assets should have been transferred to the town council when it was formed, however, if all of the items under the levy were transferred now, it would cost the town council in the region of £2million to begin with, as it would need to employ staff and buy machinery.

TVBC finance portfolio holder, Councillor Peter Giddings said: “The Andover Special Expenses Levy was brought in at a time when the whole of the borough was parished apart from the Andover wards.

“In parished areas, the parish or town council is responsible for carrying out local services funded by its precept. To equalise the treatment across the borough, council taxpayers in the Andover wards are charged a Special Expenses Levy.

“This represents a contribution towards TVBC’s costs incurred in providing those facilities in Andover, which in parished areas would be met from parish council tax.

“Even though Andover now has its own town council, the levy is still relevant because of the limited range of services run by the town council.

“TVBC has been in discussion with Andover Town Council (ATC) since the town council first indicated their desire to assume responsibility for services covered by the levy.

“The borough council have made it clear to Andover Town Council that we have a responsibility to the residents of Andover to ensure that the town council has viable proposals for the ongoing provision of services. Therefore understanding how the town council hopes to assume services, their plans for transition and their proposals for ongoing management are key to any further meaningful discussions.

“The council is satisfied that it is acting lawfully by charging the Special Expenses Levy to Andover residents.”