'Hidden' tax rise starts votes row

PUBLISHED: 13:53 03 April 2008 | UPDATED: 13:08 06 May 2010

DISCREPANCIES in council tax increases across the district have led to claims that the ruling LibDem group is buying votes in St Albans. Although the overall average Band D increase in the St Albans council share of the overall council tax bill is 3.5 p

DISCREPANCIES in council tax increases across the district have led to claims that the ruling LibDem group is "buying" votes in St Albans.

Although the overall average Band D increase in the St Albans council share of the overall council tax bill is 3.5 per cent, the percentage change across the district ranges from 1.3 per cent in St Albans city to six per cent in areas like Colney Heath, Redbourn and Harpenden Rural.

The fluctuations are due to so-called "special expenses" which are 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.

It accounts for nine per cent of district council costs and takes in such items as playing fields and open spaces, local halls and commons, bus shelters and public conveniences.

But this year, because work on St Albans Town Hall is now complete and the building has been let, it is making a profit which is why residents of the city have the smallest percentage increase.

Tory councillor Julian Daly maintained that although a headline council tax increase of 3.5 per cent had been claimed by the ruling group, the underlying tax had gone up by just over six per cent.

He pointed out that just under 40 per cent of the 60,221 tax-paying dwellings in the district were in St Albans city which meant that the reality for 60 per cent of tax-payers in the district was that their St Albans share of the council tax had risen between four and six per cent.

Cllr Daly added: "It is only if you live in St Albans city that you will have had a below-inflation increase. Are the LibDems so desperate to stop their councillors losing in the upcoming election that they have resorted to buying votes in St Albans?"

But an angry Cllr Chris Oxley, the council's portfolio holder for resources, stressed that the average Band D increase was 3.5 per cent and that was the figure his group had targeted.

He said: "It would be utterly impossible to differentiate between different wards because you are always going to have differences by virtue of expenditure."

Cllr Oxley said the Town Hall had been a loss-making building and people living in St Albans city had paid for that as a special expense in the past. "The council has remedied the problems and it is now making a profit. It has moved from a negative to a positive.

He accused Cllr Daly of objecting to the council being efficient and stressed that when the average budget figure was set, he had no idea where there would be ups and downs.

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