Growing alarm at council tax rise

PUBLISHED: 11:06 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:05 06 May 2010

RESIDENTS in some parts of the district had a shock when opening their council tax bills this week – rises of up to six per cent in the St Albans Council share of the overall demand. For residents of Harpenden and some of the villages particularly, the in

RESIDENTS in some parts of the district had a shock when opening their council tax bills this week - rises of up to six per cent in the St Albans Council share of the overall demand.

For residents of Harpenden and some of the villages particularly, the increase is well above the 3.5 per cent increase publicly proclaimed and lauded by the district councillors at budget setting time. In some cases the rise is nearer six per cent.

But residents of St Albans have nothing to complaint about - those living in the unparished parts of the city have only a 1.3 per cent increase in the district council portion of the bill.

St Albans resident Gordon Farquhar of Tilsworth Walk, opened his council tax demand to find the district council portion was 4.7 per cent despite the much-heralded below inflation council tax increase of 3.5 per cent.

Referring to the district council's advertisement highlighting the 3.5 per cent increase in the Herts Advertiser of March 6, he commented: "It seems that a week is a long time in politics and council tax."

A spokesperson for the council explained that the 3.5 per cent headline increase was an overall average and the rate applied in each area varied as a result of so-called special expenses.

They was introduced in 1993 and designed to ensure that people in parished areas who pay a precept to their town or parish councils do not pay twice for the same service.

Special expenses account for nine per cent of district council costs and take in areas such as playing fields and open spaces, local halls, allotments, commons, city-centre management, public seats, bus shelters, local car parks and public conveniences.

Whereas the remaining 91 per cent of council expenditure defined as general expenses is allocated evenly across the whole district, special expenses are allocated only to those areas where the expenditure is incurred.

That figure is then divided by the number of households in the respective area using the average Band D property as the benchmark.

Steve Burd, St Albans council's interim head of finance, explained that the special expenses could fluctuate and one reason why people living in St Albans city centre were paying less this year was that the newly-reopened Town Hall was now budgeted as an income rather than a special expense as it had been in previous years.

But he admitted that the figures had caused some confusion and said the council would clarify the situation next year in the information it sent out either pre or in council tax bills.

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