Taxing times split cabinet as date set for key decision over household payments

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DISTRICT leaders have clashed over whether to increase council tax ahead of a crunch meeting.

Bosses at Aylesbury Vale District Council have agreed to let members from all parties decide if the authority should accept government money to keep council tax static, or approve a 2.5 per cent rise.

But cabinet members heard that a government incentive grant has only been pledged for a year – a zero increase could leave householders saddled with a bumper raise in 2013/14.

If the increase happens, householders in Band D homes will pay an extra £3.28 a year – or 6p more a week.

Last week leaders decided to take the unprecedented step of putting two options in front of the 59 councillors at a meeting on February 1.

The government has offered a one-year Freeze Grant for authorities which do not increase council tax – but papers shown to bosses show it could cost the council £1 million over five years if it is accepted.

Councillor Neil Blake, who is responsible for finance, warned taxpayers could be hit with an increase of more than four per cent in 12 months’ time.

But Councillor David Thompson said it would be ‘crass’ not to accept the cash.

He told bosses: “The general public see that we’re borrowing money for commendable capital projects, but we’ve been offered money and we’re saying no.

“I don’t think that’s right.”

He said the council needed to look at ways of raising additional revenue.

And Councillor Sir Beville Stanier said: “I feel it would be misunderstood by the public. This is a present from the government, but I agree when you look further, you can’t fault (Councillor Blake’s) logic.”

And Councillor Phil Yerby said: “It’s a very clear cut decision, just because we’re not going to get it next year, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take free money this year.”

Mr Yerby called for the zero per cent council tax to be the only option put to the full council, but his call was defeated.

Leader of the council, Councillor John Cartwright, said: “I’m driven by my hero, Margaret Thatcher.

“She would never make a decision until it was absolutely imperative.”