FINAL council tax bills have been agreed despite heavy criticism from councillors about the decision by police chiefs to increase their part of the bill.
Councillors met last night to finalise bills for the next 12 months but while Hartlepool Borough Council froze its element, both Cleveland Fire Authority and Cleveland Police had increased their precepts ahead of the meeting.
Councillors hit out at the Police and Crime Commissioner because of controversial plans that will see Hartlepool lose 17 of its PCSOs, with some members saying why should Hartlepool residents be “paying more for less”.
After a lengthy – and at times heated debate inside the council chamber – members eventually confirmed the 2014-15 bills, which will be sent out to residents in April.
While the local authority froze its element for the fourth successive year, the fire authority agreed a 1.9 per cent increase and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger backed a 1.997 per cent rise.
It means residents’ annual bills will go up slightly, between £3 and £10 a year depending on what grade of property they live in between Band A or H.
The annual bill for a Band A property without a parish council will be £1,126.66 – or £93.88 a month.
Council tax payers in a Band B property will be paying £1,314.44 or £109.53 a month and those in a Band D property £1,689.99 or £140 a month.
Independent councillor Paul Thompson had put forward a motion which called on the council not to collect the police precept in protest and for them to think again but the motion was eventually withdrawn after major concerns were raised by the council’s chief solicitor and finance officer.
Coun Thompson said: “The council has worked very hard to freeze its council tax, to the detriment of staff and services.
“I do have a huge problem with the police increasing their precepts, even if it is not a lot of money overall. We are paying more for less, 17 PCSOs less.”
The stance was backed by independent councillor Keith Fisher, who said “It is unacceptable to pay more for less” and councillor Jonathan Brash added: “You can’t remove 17 PCSOs and ask the people of Hartlepool to pay more for it.”
But Peter Devlin, the chief solicitor, said the police and fire authority had already set their precepts and all council was being asked to do was agree the calculations used.
He said the council’s reputation, as the collecting authority, would be damaged and it would be bordering on illegal, while chief finance officer Chris Little said it would have cost implications with a delay in getting final bills out.
Before voting on the motion, Coun Thompson agreed to withdraw it but asked that a “strongly-worded” letter be sent to Mr Coppinger outlining the concerns.
Council leader, Christopher Akers-Belcher, said: “All we are being asked to do is agree the calculations. We may not be happy with it but we must get the bills out.”
Labour councillor Chris Simmons added: “While I agree with the sentiment, our prime concern is keeping the people of Hartlepool safe.”