The Moray Council administration have been challenged over a series of steep increases being imposed on future use of the Elgin Town Hall.
A £1.2million refurbishment of the hall was completed at the end of last year – now the local authority are seeking to claw back part of that investment through a raft of increased charges for the use of its facilities.
Councillors attending the policy and resources committee on Tuesday learned that currently fees paid for use of the hall were generating less than 50% of its £100,000 annual target. In a bid to close that gap the standard hire rates have all been increased – some by as high as 45%.
Community rates for hire of the lounge, kitchen and room have been hiked from £13.50 to £25 while the cost of renting the main hall has gone up from £29 to £40. Corresponding commercial rates have been increased from £22.50 to £35 for the room, kitchen and lounge while day hire for the hall has gone up from £307 to £350.
Council Convener Alan Wright defended the increases, saying: “There was £1.25million of work done to improve the town hall – including a new roof and new interior decoration.
“The annual effect of that work on the revenue budget is close to £100,000 and the current income is of the order of £45,000. That is why we need to increase charges.”
However, Elgin City South councillor Graham Leadbitter insisted that the local authority should do much more to promote the town hall facilities to private businesses rather than impose drastic increases on local non-profit groups who may not be able to afford to use the hall in future.
He said: “The investment in Elgin Town Hall was very welcome but in very few other areas of the council would we invest that much money in something without having a plan to increase revenue other than by simply increasing charges.
“What is required is a proactive sales strategy to clients who hold conferences, concerts and events in the hall. This would be a ‘spend and save’ approach – if we spend a few thousand promoting the hall as a venue I think we would ultimately generate more income.”
In the final count a motion by Councillor Leadbitter to defer any decision on the price increases was defeated by seven votes to five.