A 3.9% council tax rise has been approved by council bosses ‘to protect services’ after cuts in national funding.
The plans were approved at a meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council, who voted to implement a core council tax increase of 2.9%, plus 1% adult social precept, which will provide an additional income of £1.517million.
Council leader Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said the council was left with ‘no choice’ after nine years of government cuts.
He added the council tax increase, the highest possible without holding a referendum, will raise £1.517million, which is 54% of the Government grant cut to the council for 2019/20.
For properties in Band A, which make up more than 50% of homes in the area, council tax for council services, which excludes police, fire and parish council tax levels set by the authorities, will rise by £42 for the year, from £1,081.35 this year to £1,123.52.
For properties in Band D it will rise by £63 from £1,622.02 to £1,685.28, a weekly increase of £1.22.
Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “The Government’s council tax policy has put more of the burden onto local council tax payers with a 12% national shift since 2015/16.
“This isn’t fair and means councils are left with the invidious choice of either increasing council tax or even greater cuts in services.
“We have worked hard over the past few months to address the 2019/20 budget deficit.
“We are now faced with the stark choice of either increasing council tax by 3.9% or we would have to make additional cuts to the same of value, around £1.5million, before April 1 next year.
“Many people in towns near to Hartlepool pay more council tax.
“Looking to 2021 councils are on a financial cliff edge. There are many key issues which the Government should address. Will they properly fund adult and children’s social care? Or will they continue to pass the funding burden onto local council tax payers.
“In view of these issues we effectively have no choice for 2019/20 but to increase council tax by 3.9% but this will protect our services.
“The decision was not made in Hartlepool, it was made in Westminster and reflects nine years of austerity.”
The council tax rise was part of a finance and policy committee report to provide a balanced budget for 2019/20.
Council bosses attributed a near £6million deficit to cuts in Hartlepool’s core government funding, which by 2019/20 will be 45% less than in 2013/14 – a reduction of £20.9m.
This change has meant that in 2019/20 council tax will fund 62% of expenditure, compared to 50% in 2015/16.
Councillors also agreed with finance officer’s decision to use £3.745million of council reserves to complete a balanced budget next year.
In total 21 councillors voted in favour of the increase, eight voted against and one councillor abstained.
Coun James Black was one of those who objected to the plans, who said the council needed to scrutinise its own spending further before increasing the council tax.
He said: “I absolutely understand the current issues that we face here in Hartlepool and the last thing I want to see happen to the council is what’s happened down in Northampton.
“One of the points I continue to make is we should cut ourselves before we make any further cuts to the council, but that’s simply not happened.
“Why have councillors paid parking spaces not been introduced? Why has the purchase of alcohol for members not been banned? Why have we continued ward member budgets?”
Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher responded stating the recommendations of the report included a review of all civic arrangements, including parking, which will be taken into account if savings can be made.
He said: “With regards to the expenditure of civic, which you refer to having a bottle of wine on the house, looking at the calculation the total spend of which the majority is teas and coffees and the expenditure for Remembrance Sunday in total comes to around about £850 for the whole year.
“If there are any savings that can be had all that will do is reduce the need within the budget to use the budget support fund.”
Nic Marko , Local Democracy Reporting Service