Council tax set to be frozen

TAXPAYERS are in line for another freeze in their council tax bills after senior councillors backed proposals.

But Hartlepool residents are being warned that bills could rocket by as much as five per cent in the coming years to help fund services.

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Hartlepool Borough Council’s cabinet committee backed proposals to freeze the local authority’s council tax level in order to qualify for a one-off Government grant of around £1m, equivalent to raising the 2011-12 level by 2.5 per cent.

It is the second time the Government has offered the grant to authorities that freeze rates and councillors “reluctantly” backed the proposals.

Members stressed freezing the bills means services could be harder hit in the future as the council is bringing in less income.

It means in future council tax bills could rise by anywhere between 2.5 and five per cent.

The final budget for 2012-13 – including council tax rates – will be confirmed at a meeting of the full council in February, at which the Cleveland Fire Authority and Cleveland Police Authority precepts will be added.

If the proposals are rubber stamped, it means that from April, anyone living in a Band A property will continue to pay £1,113.68 a year, residents in a house in Band D £1,670.51 and those in the most expensive Band H properties will continue to pay £3,341.02.

Labour councillor Jonathan Brash said: “We have to accept the Government money.

“People are really struggling.

“To give them that breathing space for the next 12 months is the right thing to do.”

Labour councillor Ged Hall said: “We are between a rock and a hard place.

“The bit that is most difficult to explain is how our base budget is affected by not raising council tax.

“The £1m from the Government is not locked into the base budget for future years so when that safety net disappears we have to start from a lower budget in future.”

Independent councillor Cath Hill agreed while Labour councillor Chris Simmons said he could not “see another option” than to take the grant.

Independent councillor Hilary Thompson said she favoured a 2.5 per cent rise next year and the next two years after, but acknowledged it is difficult to get the message across to the public.

Mayor Stuart Drummond, who described it as a “real dilemma”, said: “If somebody is offering a grant we would normally bite their hand off.

“But that is what the Government want people to think; it is making big problems for next year and beyond.”

Despite the concerns, Mayor Drummond said the general view was to “reluctantly take the Government bribe”.

In 2010-11 residents were faced with a 2.6 per cent rise, which added between £28 and £85 to council tax bills.

But people were given some respite this year after the council took advantage of the Government grant and froze the 2011-12 council tax bills.