Council tax to rise for first time in three yearsBy Jon Nurse
February 21, 2013
Council Tax is set to rise for the first time in three years after council bosses rejected a Government grant to freeze the charge.
Despite generating £1.6 million from the 1.9 per cent rise, Wokingham Borough Council still needs to make savings of £6 million in its proposed 2013/14 budget.
Millions of pounds will be spent on education, housing, the town centre regeneration and easing traffic congestion over the next three years, while children’s centres and the borough’s youth service will see funding slashed by £570,000 a year.
Job losses at the borough council will also save a further £500,000 a year over the next three years.
The council’s executive is set to agree tonight (Thursday) the borough’s share of the overall Council Tax for 2013/14 at £1,222.50 for a Band D property, meaning a rise of 45p per week.
Councillor David Lee, council leader, said: “The country is in a bad state and we have to rise to the challenge. We are being asked to rise more than others and we will have to make cuts in the future.
“This budget is not just based on cutting costs as if you do that you just cut off the head and it’s lost. It’s about planning for the future.
“We have decided not to go for the offer of restricting Council Tax increase. We don’t take pleasure in it. We would love to reduce it but it would be very short-sighted and we would pay for it in the future.”
Council Tax has been frozen for the past two years thanks to a Government grant, but the council opted not to accept a one per cent grant this year.
Cllr Anthony Pollock, executive member for finance, said: “We took the view there were too many uncertainties and we would rather have the extra income in the tax base this year because it protects services for the future.”
There is huge pressure on the council as it was handed its worst ever local government finance settlement in December, a reduction of 10.3 per cent this year followed by a further 16 per cent reduction in 2014/15 – totalling £5 million over the next two years.
However, the proposed cuts won’t affect the long-awaited town centre regeneration.
Graham Ebers, strategic director of resources, said: “We are investing in a brighter future and we need to fund that now.
"It’s our responsibility as community leaders to invest in the town and infrastructure to do our bit to stem the tide of austerity.”
The council has saved £16.5 million over the last four years, and promises to protect frontline services and vulnerable people despite even further cutbacks.
Cllr Keith Baker, executive member for highways and planning, said: “We are looking for better ways of doing things.
“Just because we havedone something the last 50 years doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it any more.”