TOWN councillors in Barnard Castle have been urged to “recognise the pressure” tax payers are under when setting their budget for 2013-14.

Members are being asked to consider a number of options, including one which would result in a dramatic increase in the council's precept – the amount it charges tax payers on top of that levied by Durham County Council, Durham Police and County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service.

Barnard Castle Town Council's finance committee was due to meet this week to discuss next year's budget, but it was put off to the new year due to members' illness.

However, a report to members outlines 59 items of expenditure, including 11 new areas of spending.

This includes a proposed £10,000 fund for a series of community events, £3,600 to kick-start improvements to war memorials and £5,750 to cover the cost of local elections next May.

The report, prepared by town clerk Michael King, states that if all expenditure was agreed and no cash was taken from the council's reserves, tax payers would have to stump up £175,881 – a £35,000 increase on this year's precept.

For someone living in a Band D property, that would add £103.88 to their council tax bill compared to this year's £76.20.

Mr King warns that due to Government changes in the way council tax is calculated, the town council would have to raise its precept by more than £8,000 just to stand still.

“This increase alone exceeds the two per cent threshold at which the secretary of state would trigger a local referendum. No announcement has been made, to date, regarding local council precepts in this regard,” he said.

Robert Oxley, campaigns manager with the Taxpayers' Alliance, said all areas of local government were having to make difficult decisions on their budgets.

“All arms of local government have to tighten their belts. Most councils are freezing council tax as they recognise the pressure it places on households who struggle to make ends meet,” he said, adding: “Parish councils should not increase bills just as other authorities have taken the tough decisions required of them.

“Barnard Castle should not ignore its responsibility to keep bills down in tough times.”