Savings needed to keep council tax down
ONE part of the annual council tax bill increase looks set to be below the rate of inflation but St Albans council has to find £1.7 million in efficiency savings to achieve it. The Lib-Dem controlled district council, whose share of the council tax bill a
ONE part of the annual council tax bill increase looks set to be below the rate of inflation but St Albans council has to find £1.7 million in efficiency savings to achieve it.
The Lib-Dem controlled district council, whose share of the council tax bill amounts to 12.1p in the pound, is being recommended to keep its increase down to 3.5 per cent on an average Band D property.
That is despite its Government grant dropping from the expected two per cent to one per cent - with the grant set to be lower in future years.
The district council precept is just one of three major parts in council tax bills. The largest share, 76p in the pound, goes to the county council which has still to set its budget with a further 9.6p going to the police. People living in the parishes and in Harpenden will also pay an additional precept.
Portfolio holder for resources, Cllr Chris Oxley, told this week's meeting of St Albans Cabinet that the below-inflation figure had been achieved despite exceptional expenditure on the rail freight depot planning appeal, the withdrawal of a numbers of grants and unavoidable costs such as falling income from car parking and the cost of job evaluation within the council.
He put the lower-than-expected rise down to measures such as a new in-house phone centre and website, an investigation into the cost of providing certain services and outsourcing IT work.
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Despite that, money had been found to bring in improved access to leisure facilities, better recycling services and preparatory work on improvements at sites like Westminster Lodge swimming pool.
But he came under fire from Cllr Roma Mills, the Labour group leader, who questioned why the Government grants to neighbouring authorities Dacorum and Welwyn-Hatfield were two and four per cent respectively, both considerably higher than in St Albans. She said: "It seems odd that some authorities seem to have argued a better case than we have."
Cllr Mills also questioned a proposed five per cent increases in council charges, details of which have not yet been revealed.
"The general public would like to know what the increase in charges is before full council because these are things which affect them directly," she commented.
Council leader, Cllr Robert Donald, said that in his view the budget settlement was one of worst he could recall for a long time. He added: "We were expecting two per cent and to get one per cent and learn that it will be half a per cent next year is very serious.
"We have staff salary increases of about three per cent and various other pressures on us. To come up with a rate increase of 3.5 per cent and keep it below RPI is a remarkable achievement."
The budget now has to be ratified at the next meeting of the full council later this month.
n Harpenden Town Council has set a 1.5 per cent increase in its share of council tax despite the withdrawal of a Government grant of £30,000 for councils achieving best value status.
Cllr Rosemary Farmer, who presented the budget on Monday night, said it would still allow the council to look at ways of working collaboratively with the county council to seek wider community use of the former Oaklands site in Vaughan Road.
n Tenants of St Albans council homes face an average increase of just below seven per cent in their rents from the beginning of April.
It means that people living in council-owned properties who are not among the 54 pr cent on housing benefit will face a range of increases in rents from between 2.82 per cent and 9.53 per cent.
It will be those living in the smaller properties who face the largest increases in line with national guidelines.
Housing portfolio holder, Cllr Aislinn Lee, said: "With the Government settlement we got, there should be a 10 per cent increase in rents but there is no way we would want to inflict that on our housing tenants."
Instead the housing department had come up with a raft of savings which had enabled her to propose the lower figure of 6.93 per cent, she added.
Cllr Lee added: "We don't have control any more and have to comply with a Government formula.