TAXPAYERS in Stockton are likely to face a 1.9 per cent rise in their council tax from April.
Stockton Borough Council’s powerful cabinet committee will discuss the issue on Thursday (February 21) and the budget must then be ratified at full council.
Bob Cook, leader of the council, has indicated he will be pushing for the 1.9 per cent increase and it is likely to go through.
That means the authority will not accept the Government’s offer of a grant in return for freezing the council tax, a decision criticised by Conservative Stockton South MP James Wharton.
However, Coun Cook, a Labour member, said accepting the grant would store up trouble in the future because it was a one off payment and the shortfall in the budget would be even higher next year. Even as it is the council is having to use more than £3m from its reserves to make the budget balance.
The authority has shed 600 jobs in the last three years and Coun Cook said it was likely, with more than 75 per cent of the budget going on wages, that more jobs will be lost in the future. However that costs the authority money in redundancy payments.
Coun Cook added that Government funding in 2010/11 to the council was £120m but that has been reduced to £89m for the coming financial year. He added that a much higher proportion of properties in Stockton were Band A, where the lowest amount of tax is paid by the household, than the national average.
Other challenges included a big increase in the number of looked after children from 235 to 335 children and that budget has almost doubled to £11.2m. The costs of providing adult social care have increased from £26.1m four years ago to £31.4 in the coming year.
Coun Cook warned services would be cut in the future. He said: “We do not want to cut services but we are forced to because of Government cuts. We are aware of the difficulties facing our residents in the current economic climate but if we freeze council Ttax, it would see us face an additional pressure of £2m over the next three years.
“We have no option. We simply cannot afford to accept the freeze in light of the cuts we are already facing.”
James Wharton MP hit back pointing out that when the council was Conservative-led it accepted the Government grant in return for a freeze and, contrary to Stockton council’s expectations, the grant offer had been repeated twice more.
He said: “I don’t think anyone in South Stockton is being served well by this council and hard-pressed families have a chance for a council freeze. The council should accept this offer.”