Complaints leave council with big bill
A PARISH council has been left at financial breaking point because of an auditor's bill of more than �9,000.The bill is the result of an objection about the authority's accounts by a man dubbed by the council as a 'persistent complainer'.
A PARISH council has been left at financial breaking point because of an auditor's bill of more than �9,000.
The bill is the result of an objection about the authority's accounts by a man dubbed by the council as a 'persistent complainer'.
Roughton Parish Council has been forced into a range of measures, including considering taking an emergency loan of �2,000 from North Norfolk District Council.
But it may also have to hike its council tax precept in the village, potentially costing each household more than �65.
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It is the latest in a long dispute between the parish council and parishioner Tony Musker, who is a former councillor himself.
Mr Musker has become well known in Roughton for his complaints across more than a decade - including 17 complaints to the district council standards committee since May 2008, none of them upheld.
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The auditor's bill of �9,269 arose because Mr Musker complained about the parish accounts for 2007/8. The parish council insists the auditor found that all serious allegations, such as deception, were unfounded.
But Mr Musker said part of the auditor's finding pointed out that 'it is possible that, in certain instances, the level of detail included within the council's agendas may not have provided sufficient detail of the business to be transacted at the meeting and as a consequence items of expenditure incurred at those meetings may have been unlawful'.
On Monday two public meetings were held to discuss the situation. One saw the district council cabinet agree to offer the loan to help the parish continue with its workings, while the other was an evening parish meeting in Roughton village hall to discuss the consequences for the community.
These could include saving money by stopping grass cutting on the village common, closing the newsletter the Roughton Recorder and reducing the clerk's hours.
During the cabinet meeting, Roughton ward district councillor Sue Arnold said there was no desire to 'gag' people who wanted to complain about the workings of councils. But the sheer number of complaints against the parish council at Roughton meant it was 'in danger of falling apart again' - a reference to a mass resignation in 2004 for almost identical reasons.
'Nobody seems to know what can be done to control the situation,' she added.
'It's so demoralising and some people are radically affected. It's destroying a community.'
Cabinet member Graham Jones said it was not just the financial impact of the complaints which was a problem: 'It is the damage to individuals, the stress and strain of being subject to an allegation.'
Cabinet colleague Peter Moore said: 'How long would you expect an ordinary bod to want to continue to serve that community if they knew they were going to be fodder for a great stream of complaints?'
At Monday's village hall meeting, which was at times angry, parish council chairman Gil Hunt said: 'This has effectively made the council insolvent.'
On Tuesday Mr Musker said the parish council had been giving incorrect information. He said the precept increase necessary to cover the cost of the auditor's bill was around �20 and not the higher figure given by the council.
'I still think they are doing things wrong, this parish council is a matter of concern to many villagers.'