Hall's not well at Petersfield Town Council as a tumultuous week of tax rises and budget worries has ended with the surprise resignation of its key player.

Town clerk Neil Hitch is taking early retirement with the council accepting his notice last Thursday evening in a behind closed-doors meeting.

The move followed a difficult full PTC meeting where councillors approved a 7.7 per cent increase to its precept, adding £12.96 to the average council tax bill in the town.

The inflation-busting rise is partly down to staff salary rises, increased energy bills and the cost of meeting climate change pledges.

But the biggest reason is undoubtedly the spiralling costs of updating Festival Hall, with current estimates well exceeding the £20 million mark.

Taxing times...

The town's budget has been greenlit for this financial year, with Petersfield residents expected to pay the town council 7.7 per cent more in tax.

The increase for a Band D property will be £1.08 per month, making it £178.74 annually. This rise will give the town council a precept of £1,040,004. 

The council said producing a balanced budget was exceptionally challenging. Councillors were mindful that while costs have risen substantially, the precept has not kept up with these costs. 

Chairman of the finance and general purposes committee, Cllr Phil Shaw said: “Prior to deciding the budget councillors had received a presentation from Citizens Advice East Hampshire which highlighted the impact the cost of living crisis was having on some Petersfield residents. This was a timely reminder, if any was needed, that we should keep the precept increase as low as possible whilst continuing to maintain the services so many residents value. 

“I like to think we have achieved that despite the inflationary pressures on the council.”

A tremendous asset

But while the council says hello to a new budget, it is saying goodbye to its town clerk, Neil Hitch. Mr Hitch joined the council as town clerk in 2006 and has overseen a radical transformation at the council, including providing its own grounds maintenance team, the construction of the skatepark, the introduction of the Neighbourhood Plan, the annual Remembrance Sunday Parade and lighting up the town every Christmas.

Mayor JC Crissey said: “Neil has been a tremendous asset for the council and every member conveys their best wishes for his future and their thanks for his sterling accomplishments on behalf of the residents of Petersfield.”

Staff panel chairman, Cllr David Petche said: “I reluctantly received Neil’s wish to retire early to spend more time on family matters. Neil has given great service to the council and will be sorely missed.”