Councillors vote in 4.9% council tax rise in Hartlepool
A move to increase council tax by 4.9% in Hartlepool has been rubber-stamped by councillors.
The increase will come into effect from April after the motion was approved at a full meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council.
Of the 26 councillors in attendance at Hartlepool Civic Centre, 16 voted for the increase, with 10 voting against.
The rise is set to generate an additional £1.785million a year for the council, and includes a 2% increase for adult social care costs.
The increase had earlier been approved by the council's finance and policy committee, when it was agreed that the increase would be 4.9% rather than 5.9%.
Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher also proposed that 1% of the 4.9% rise should be dedicated to children's social care in the town.
He also defended the council tax rise, and said: "I believe the budget we have already set for 2018-19 based on the proposed council tax increase of 4.9% is prudent and will enable us to protect the vast majority of frontline services.
"We want to protect the most vulnerable people in our town, in particular the elderly and vulnerable children.
"We were elected to be decisive and make these difficult decisions.
"We must remain hugely positive and still work tirelessly to ensure that Hartlepool continues to prosper.
"This is demonstrated by works which have begun on £8million of projects to regenerate key parts of our town."
The regeneration projects mentioned by Coun Akers-Belcher - namely on Church Street, Seaton Carew seafront and Hartlepool waterfront - were criticised at the meeting by independent councillor John Tennant, who represents the Jesmond ward.
He said: "This rise will quite clearly hit the working poor hardest.
"It will potentially make them economically inactive and leave them with little prospects for growth and self-improvement.
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"The council should put the vanity projects to bed until we are financially solvent, and put a greater effort into infrastructure and housing.
"If we are not realistic, we will make the next generation poorer than the last."
Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, though, who represents the Manor House ward, hit back.
He said: "What are vanity projects?
"What you may describe as vanity projects are providing employment for many people.
"The buildings around us are bringing jobs to the town.
"We're working very hard to ensure these projects are coming forward.
"We are looking to better our town."
The rise is the third successive annual increase taxpayers in Hartlepool have seen to their bills.
The council has blamed the increase on continued cuts in government funding and the increased demand for children's services.
Coun Alan Clark said the council has written to the Department for Education and also Communities and Local Government for help as demand for children’s social care has gone up 40% in the last year.
Coun Akers-Belcher said the council had frozen the tax for five out of the last seven years.