An opposition councillor says he will “fundamentally oppose” any rise in council tax for Hartlepool residents.
David Riddle, of the Putting Hartlepool First group, spoke out against a recommended 3.9% increase from April this year.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s Corporate Management Team, led by Chief Executive Gill Alexander, is proposing the increase following a £2.1million bigger than expected cut in grant funding from the Government, plus other financial burdens.
But Coun Riddle accuses the council of contributing to the financial problems itself claiming it has “squandered” millions of pounds on various projects.
He said: “To simply blame the Government for Hartlepool Council’s financial problems is misleading. The Conservative government certainly haven’t done our town any favours, but in my opinion, the problem lies much closer to home.
“Our ruling group of councillors have wasted millions of pounds worth of taxpayers’ money over the last few years.
“Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent of consultants, community projects, not the mention the money our council leader continues to squander pursuing the so-called Hartlepool Vision.”
Council officers point out that council tax has not increased in Hartlepool for the last five years but say changes in national Government policy shows that era is over.
Responsibility for social care is being also shifted from central government on to local councils.
Of the 3.9% increase proposed for Hartlepool, it would include a 2% Social Care levy, which would raise £655,000 a year towards adult social care costs.
But Coun Riddle added: “People in Hartlepool already pay the third highest council tax in the entire country.
“The very idea of putting it up even higher is disgusting and a slap in the face to hard-working people.
“The argument that council tax hasn’t gone up in five years doesn’t stand up, because the vast majority of people’s wages haven’t gone up either.”
Coun Riddle, who represents Hart ward, was speaking ahead of a debate on the proposed council tax rise by the Finance and Policy Committee, which he is a member of and was due to meet this morning.
He was unable to attend due to work commitments and submitted a statement to be read out.
Difficulties facing authority
Hartlepool’s financial settlement was announced just before Christmas and revealed the authority was to lose out by an extra £2.1million on top of the £2.8million cut it was expecting.
It is also trying to find ways of dealing with a £3.9million drop in Business Rates every year after a decision by the Valuation Office Agency last year to reduce the rates paid by Hartlepool Power Station.
And the council is expecting further big Government grant cuts over the next few years and that by 2019/20, Hartlepool will have seen its funding cut by two thirds, or £38million compared to 2011/12 when the austerity cuts were first introduced.
Between now and next month, the council will need to consider whether to implement a 1.9% council tax increase and also whether to implement the extra 2% social care precept.
A 3.9% rise would see households be subject to an extra 70p per week in lowest priced Band A housing rising to £2.12 a week in the highest property bracket Band H.