Test Valley residents will see their council tax increase by £2.50 in the next year – with Andover residents seeing a rise of £1 less than the rest.

The cabinet of Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) voted to approve an increase in their council tax from £146.41 to £148.91 for a Band E property for the next year.

They also approved a decrease in the Andover Special Expenses Levy, which pays for the maintenance of community assets such as cemeteries and sports grounds, by £1 after removing charges for community halls from the levy.

Councillor Maureen Flood said that it had been an “incredibly challenging” year for the council, and that the rise would allow them to protect core services. She said that TVBC had ‘cushioned’ the blow by using its reserves to allow a lower council tax increase.

The removal of community halls from the Andover Special Expenses Levy has not been universally popular, however, with one borough councillor claiming the action “increases the risk of further community hall losses in Andover.” This has been denied by the borough council.

Councillors met at a cabinet meeting of TVBC on February 10 to discuss a number of matters, including the setting of council tax for the coming year.

The council estimates that it will lose £6.3 million for 2020/2021, following a reduction in fees for services such as car parking and leisure centres as lockdowns struck. This figure is reduced to £1.4 million following government grants and other savings, with the remainder to be covered from the council’s reserves.

The budget for next year is also going to be ‘profoundly impacted’ by the pandemic, with the council having considered an increase of £5 in council tax, the maximum allowed without holding a referendum.

Cllr Maureen Flood said this move was being considered as late as last month, but that the rise would now be reduced to £2.50.

She said: “The medium term financial strategy made the assumption, as indeed did our national government, that our council tax would increase by the maximum amount allowed of £5, and as recently as last month I was still forecasting that to be the case.

“However, I’m very pleased to recommend to you tonight that our council tax charge for next year be increased by only half this amount. The increase of £2.50 for a Band E property will increase our charge from £146.41 to £148.91.”

The move will cost the council £126,000, but Cllr Flood said that it was “important” to support residents during the “unprecedented” pandemic.

She also announced that following the approval of the conversion of The Rendezvous into an I Can therapy centre, the £21,800 contribution towards the maintenance of community halls in Andover would be removed from the special expenses levy, reducing it from £21.12 to £20.12.

Cllr Flood said: “Following anticipated changes in the operation of one of the public halls that has previously been charged to the Andover Special Expenses Levy, I’m recommending that the savings delivered from that charge are used to remove the charge from public halls across Andover from the levy. This reduces the recommended Andover Levy charge by £1 from the amount charged in the current year.”

The removal of community hall maintenance from the levy was criticised by borough councillor and Andover town councillor David Coole, who claimed the move would prevent halls from being transferred to Andover Town Council in the future.

He said: “By removing the community halls from the Andover Levy, they become a borough asset, will never be transferred to Andover Town Council and can be disposed of by TVBC without any public consultation”, adding: “This action by TVBC increases the risk of further community hall losses in Andover.”

The borough council disputes this, with TVBC deputy leader Cllr Nick Adams-King having previously told a full council meeting that the council “had no intention” of selling its Andover assets and “would continue to hold them in trust for the enjoyment of Andover residents.”

The recommendations for the budget and council tax proposals were proposed by Cllr North and seconded by Cllr Flood. They were then passed by the cabinet without dissent.