Two options... but it’s your call

EDITOR – Interesting report on the front page of the Rasen Mail last week.

It is not all it appears and I think I need to clarify a few points regarding the Old Police Station (OPS).

The original plan for the building was for a community resource centre and the council offices to go into the police house (the left side of the building) – this is now occupied by the dentists.

The police station (the central part of the building) and court room were to be looked at as a heritage site, with a grant from the Heritage Lottery.

Work was started on the community resource centre and a multi-use centre grant was applied for. The Development Trust was successful with obtaining the grant and decided to use it at the Hub instead.

Looking back, this was the best option. Work was stopped on the police house and a decision was made to find tenants for the building. It was at this point that the dentists showed an interest in moving to the area; we approached them with the view of renting out this part of the building.

It was always the intention of the town council to move out of the rented accommodation we had at the Festival Hall and move to the OPS. This move would save us over £3,000 a year. We owned the OPS, so it made sense not to waste money on rent.

Now we had the dentist occupying the police house where the council offices were originally to be located, so it was then decided to use the two front offices in the police station for the town council offices.

We used money from reserves to renovate and decorate the two front offices and install central heating through the whole of the police station and court room.

The £1,000 per month rent received from the dentists would replenish the reserves and then run the offices. Money left over would go to refurbishing the court and magistrates room.

So, where are we today? We have suggestions from other parties on what to do with the building.

If we go along the Heritage Trust route the town council will need to move out and rent accommodation again – not only for office space but also storage for the market stalls, Christmas lights and a maintenance workshop. We would then have to find in excess of £7,000 a year, adding about seven per cent to the council tax bill.

This trust would also want to take over the police house and use the rent from the dentists to fund the museum. We only have a five-year lease with the dentists with two years left; they may not want to renew this lease.

The idea of a museum of this type is fantastic, but we have to be realistic in the economic climate we are in. We need to know how many people would visit this museum to generate an income so we need a business plan to back this up.

If the town council was to hand over the building and there was a reduction in income, who would pick up the shortfall to keep the project afloat? Market Rasen Town Council as the owner and the trustee of this building. This would fall on the tax payers of Market Rasen once again.

So, at the moment rent from the dentists pays for the upkeep of the town council offices.

We have seen a small reduction in the town council’s part of the council tax this year – only pence, but this is going in the right direction. We are looking at reducing it again next year.

Would we be a responsible council if we were to gamble with tax payers’ money in this way? We are in a positive position at the moment and we are moving forward, if slowly, with the refurbishment of magistrates room. Once finished, this will be hired out to groups for meetings.

Councils are moving more to this way of thinking, a business approach which enables us to lower the council tax, but it’s hard work. West Lindsey District Council is doing this at the moment, hiring out parts of the new Guildhall. I’d like to think it followed us but this idea isn’t new: it’s about being a progressive council.

So we have two options.

1. Go down the trust route and move out of the OPS, needing then to find the money to rent office accommodation and storage space. This would ultimately be borne by the rate payers of Market Rasen.

2. Stay as we are, to let the town council run the building as a business by letting out space to help lower council taxes. Using the surplus money to carry on refurbishing the magistrates and court room.

We have to find ways of lowering our council tax. We pay the second-highest council tax in West Lindsey. Like you, I pay £60 per year more than the neighbouring parishes and I’m not happy with that.

I think it is up to the residents of the parish of Market Rasen to decide as ultimately you will foot the bill: Option 1, or Option 2.

Ken Bridger

Mayor of Market Rasen and West Lindsey District Councillor