Leading councillors have unanimously approved a council tax rise as part of budget proposals.
The 2% increase, which would add an extra £2.62 to the average annual household bill, was given the green light by Aylesbury Vale District Council cabinet members last night (Tuesday).
A 1% freeze grant had been offered by the Government which would have prevented any additional cost to taxpayers in 2013/14.
But, with Government grants expected to be cut further in the future, cabinet members argued this ‘bribe’ would only provide a short term solution to a long term problem and insisted they need to act now to balance the books and protect vital services.
The average household would pay just 22p more a month under the plans, generating around £328,000 more for the council over three years than taking the freeze grant. Despite this, opposition and Conservative councillors have voiced their opposition to the change.
But Councillor Neil Blake, cabinet member for resources, said the increase, the equivalent of buying roughly three slices of bread a month, would ‘hardly be a burden’ on people.
Mr Blake said: “Our grant from the Government has fallen by £3.8 million in the last two years. That is a massive loss for any council to stand.
“If we want to carry on providing valuable services, 22p a month is not much to ask residents to contribute.”
The council says it has to find £3.4 million in savings over the next four years and Mr Blake argued the extra revenue from increasing council tax will help do this.
But Liberal Democrat, UKIP and Tory councillors have said the grant should still be taken while ‘free money’ is on offer and savings found elsewhere.
Councillor Steven Lambert, Lib Dem, said: “In these difficult times, when we could be heading for a triple dip recession, every penny the household gets the better.”
Councillor Chris Adams, UKIP, said the choice presented a Catch-22 situation, but that the council should still take the grant. He said: “The people at the bottom are struggling to pay their bills. Any increase puts pressure on families.”
Meanwhile, Councillor Phil Yerby, Conservative, said he was ‘totally against’ raising council tax while a grant was on offer. Mr Yerby said: “I will continue to try to convince others that there is another way - by raising income, cutting costs and most importantly changing the thinking.”
Despite the opposition from all sides, cabinet members unanimously backed Mr Blake’s recommendation.
Labour Councillor Michael Beall said he could understand the move but warned poorer people will need protecting.
Councillor David Thompson, cabinet member for leisure, said he backed the plan but that the council must continue to look for savings elsewhere. The council is in the early stages of developing a new business model which it hopes will help do this and reduce reliance on Government funding. Mr Blake said it had already helped identify changes that could be made in the planning and leisure departments.
The budget proposals, including the council tax increase, will come back to cabinet on January 15 following scrutiny before going to full council in February for final approval.
Bucks County Council – which takes the biggest slice of the precept – and Aylesbury Town Council have both said they have no intention of increasing council tax next year.
County Council leader Martin Tett said: “We’ve said all along we would like to freeze council tax in the coming financial year, and that’s in tune with what the overwhelming majority of our residents tell us they would like. In tough times it’s even more important that we hold council tax as it is, and that’s what we intend to do for the third year running.”