A COUNCIL has formally agreed to raise council tax by 1.9 per cent from April.

Stockton Borough Council ratified its budget at a Full Council meeting in Stockton Town Hall on Wednesday night.

An alternative budget was proposed by leader of the Conservatives, Ken Lupton, who recommended freezing the council tax.

Coun Lupton argued the authority could take up a Government grant worth 0.9 per cent of the overall budget if it froze council tax. Any shortfall could be taken from reserves and he pointed out the council was due to run a surplus.

He said: “We have £23m in reserves, a very healthy cushion that has been taken out of council tax-payers’ pockets. Now is the time to take a less risk-averse approach and give some much-needed respite to our tax-payers.”

However Coun Jim Beall, Labour’s deputy leader of the council, said reserves are there for emergencies and the council has to keep some money in reserve by law.

Freezing the tax would lead to a bigger deficit in future years and there was the possibility the Government could impose unexpected in-year cuts, as it has done in previous years.

He also argued that freezing the council tax now would lead to a much bigger hike for tax-payers in the future.

James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, said the authority should have taken up a Government offer of a grant to freeze the council tax.

He said: “People in Stockton are paying over £100 per year more than they were in 2011 because the Labour-run council refuses to freeze our council tax. They have turned away millions in government funding and instead they are taking it from residents and out of our local economy.”

However Stockton council has complained that it has had to deal with Government cuts. The authority received £120m from the Government in 2010-11 but estimates that will be down to £53m by April 2018.

Residents in Band A properties in Stockton currently pay £1,036 a year, including the precept for police and fire brigade. That will rise by £20 in the coming year. Band A council tax payers in neighbouring Darlington currently pay £974.67 a year.