Council tax bills finalised

COUNCILLORS have confirmed final council tax bills will see a small rise for residents after both fire and police chiefs opted to raise their precepts.

Hartlepool Borough Council has frozen its element of the bill, which makes up the vast majority of the payment.

But Cleveland Fire Authority and Cleveland Police have agreed rises of 1.9 per cent and 1.99 per cent respectively.

The final council tax bills were agreed by the full council, although some councillors wanted more detail as to the reasons why the fire authority had raised bills.

Labour councillor Robbie Payne, who is also chairman of Cleveland Fire Authority, spoke at the meeting and said the precept rise equated to about 2.5p a week.

He said it would help ensure the fire authority remains the best in the country.

This year people living in a Band A property currently pay £1,119.74, but that will rise to £1,123.16 from April 1.

Meanwhile, those in Band B, who currently pay £1,306.36, will see bills rise by £4 to £1,310.35.

Those in Band C will be paying £1,497.55 and those in Band D houses will pay £1,684.74.

People in Band H properties will see bills rise to £3,369.48.

Coun Payne said people should be proud of the fire service and said the rise would help protect services for residents of Hartlepool, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Redcar.

Coun Payne said: “The 2.5p a week means that the best performing fire authority in the country will keep on being the best performing fire authority in the country.”

Conservative group leader and fellow fire authority member, Coun Ray Wells, described the rise as “minute” and said the fire authority has had a reduced budget to work with this year.

But Geoff Lilley, Putting Hartlepool First group leader, said the local authority was also facing massive budget cuts, adding “we are all in the same boat”.

Coun Lilley, said he didn’t want to “knock” the fire authority, but added: “I have no great gripe with the 1.9 per cent but I want a reasoned explanation why.

“It is reasonable to ask our members why formally.

“This is not a huge amount of money but it is a huge amount for some people.”

Labour councillor Carl Richardson said the fire authority saves lives and asked: “What price is a life?”

Independent councillor Keith Fisher quizzed Coun Payne about recent figures that showed accidental house fires cost taxpayers across Cleveland a staggering £4.2m last year.

Coun Payne said the cost was region wide and not just for Hartlepool, adding that the fire brigade “cannot legislate” for the cost of accidental fires.

Council chief executive Dave Stubbs said the bills will clearly show the council has frozen its element of the bill and the freeze means Hartlepool Borough Council is eligible for a one per cent Government grant worth £400,000 for 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Mr Stubbs added: “The council tax bills for Hartlepool residents will clearly show that Hartlepool Borough Council froze its own tax and will show the relevant percentage increases for the police and fire authorities.”