…while KCC looks for 2% raise in pay­ments

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Council Tax Special - By Paul Fran­cis Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

pfran­cis@thek­m­group.co.uk Coun­cil tax­pay­ers are set to pay more for less as Kent County Coun­cil con­firmed it will in­crease the coun­cil tax for the first time in three years by just un­der 2%.

The coun­cil’s Con­ser­va­tive ad­min­is­tra­tion says the hike will help cush­ion the im­pact of an £81m sav­ings pack­age but has been crit­i­cised by op­po­si­tion par­ties.

The pro­posed 1.9% in­crease will see bills rise by about £20 from £1,047 to £1,068 for house­holds in Band D homes and a rise of £18.46 for peo­ple in Band C homes to £949.92.

County Hall fi­nance chiefs say the in­crease, which will gen­er­ate an ex­tra £10m, could be lower if the gov­ern­ment de­cides the trig­ger point for a ref­er­en­dum on coun­cil tax hikes should be lower.

Cur­rently, the thresh­old set by the gov­ern­ment for a vote is 2% but there is spec­u­la­tion it could be brought down to 1.5%.

KCC said if that hap­pened, it would bring the in­crease down be­cause the costs of stag­ing a ref­er­en­dum would off­set any sav­ings.

Cllr John Sim­monds (Con), KCC cab­i­net mem­ber for fi­nance, said he felt the pub­lic un­der­stood the dif­fi­cul­ties fac­ing coun­cils.

“I think peo­ple will live with it. Had we in­creased rather than frozen bills in the last three years, it might be a dif­fer­ent ball game. If you look at the pres­sure we are un­der, it is just not pos­si­ble to do it with­out in­creas­ing bills.”

Over the next three years, KCC will have to save £270m and says many more ser­vices will be out­sourced. UKIP op­po­si­tion group leader Cllr Roger Latch­ford said his party op­posed any tax in­creases in prin­ci­ple.

“If the in­crease is ab­so­lutely vi­tal to bal­ance the bud­get, we will look at it. The con­sul­ta­tion did show the pub­lic would sup­port a mod­est in­crease rather than cuts in ser­vices.”

Labour said it would as­sess the spend­ing plans care­fully and did not rule out sup­port­ing the in­crease.

Labour group leader Cllr Gor­don Cowan said: “Such dra­co­nian cut­backs as th­ese can only mean that some ser­vices will have to go or be se­verely re­duced. All the talk of ser­vice trans­for­ma­tion by the Kent Tories can­not hide the fact chil­dren and youth cen­tres have al­ready closed and there is more to come.”

Dur­ing a con­sul­ta­tion on its spend­ing plans, 23% of more than 3,000 re­spon­dents said there should be no in­crease in the coun­cil tax while 30% said they would ac­cept an in­crease of less than 2%.

The Con­ser­va­tive cab­i­net will meet this week (22) to sign off the bud­get pro­pos­als for 2014-15. A fi­nal de­ci­sion will be made in Fe­bru­ary.

A num­ber of dis­trict and bor­ough coun­cils have al­ready sig­nalled that they will also raise the coun­cil tax this year – most un­der 2%.

OP­POSED: Cllr Roger Latch­ford

PRES­SURE: Cllr John Sim­monds

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