Calls for 1.99 per cent rise

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HARTLEPOOL Mayor Stuart Drummond has backed plans to freeze council tax bills next year.

Speaking during budget discussions, Mayor Drummond said raising it means there are less cuts to make in future because there is more money in the budget.

But said he didn’t think much had changed from last year when Hartlepool Borough Council accepted a Government grant for those authorities that freeze bills for residents.

He was supported in that stance by independent councillor Cath Hill, who said she had changed her mind on the issue but independent councillor Paul Thompson said he believed “passionately” that there should be a 1.99 per cent rise in order to help protect services.

If full council agree to freeze council tax levels the one per cent grant is worth £400,000 to the council for 2013-14 and 2014-15.

But if it is increased by 1.99 per cent, it would mean people living in a Band A property paying an extra 36p a week or 48p for a Band C.

Mayor Drummond said welfare reforms could push more people over the breadline and said the council didn’t know what the affect of changes to the council tax benefit system would have on collection rates.

Mayor Drummond said: “I think it is a safer option in the long term to take the grant.

“My proposal is to take the freeze grant. I think last year everybody unanimously agreed to take the freeze and I can’t see what the change has been.”

Coun Hill said: “The public is being kicked from all sides and it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Coun Thompson said he believed the council should increase council tax to protect services adding: “I feel quite strongly about this.

“Everybody paying their own fair share will help maintain services for many years to come.”

Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher confirmed it was the view of the scrutiny co-ordinating committee that a 1.99 per cent rise in council tax would be appropriate.

After a lengthy debate, the cabinet proposal was to freeze council tax and take the grant.