St Albans households face nearly 4 per cent rise in council tax in April

Cllr Chris Hayward, the county council's portfolio holder for resources

Cllr Chris Hayward, the county council's portfolio holder for resources - Credit: Photo supplied

In a bid to balance its books in the wake of harsh government funding cutbacks, the county council will charge many residents in the district £45 more a year in council tax from April - an increase of 3.99 per cent overall.

The rise is partly due to the government, in its 2015 spending review, introducing a new designated precept, giving social care authorities power to raise a separate two per cent of council tax income to help them meet the financial pressures from a growing and ageing population.

In addition, the government has continued to significantly reduce public sector spending as part of its economic strategy.

Herts county council met on Tuesday (23) to approve its “toughest ever budget” after the government cut its grant, which initially left it with £45 million less than the previous year.

Council lobbying resulted in the government agreeing to provide an additional £7.8 million in 2016/17 and 2017/18.

But despite that extra money, the authority approached its budget-setting process impacted by the Government grant being slashed by a third, from £119 million to £80 million, leaving a £39 million gap.

To help bridge the shortfall, the council has agreed to a 1.99 per cent increase in council tax.

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Residents of the average Band D properties, of which there are 15,840 in this district, will see the county council’s portion of their bill rise by £22.71, from £1,141.09 to £1,163.80.

However, this has been bumped up by a further £22.82, with Band D taxpayers’ bills totalling £1,186.62 as a result of the separate two per cent council tax to directly fund adult social care.

Caring for older and vulnerable adults is, according to the council, “by far our biggest spend at £311 million”.

The additional two per cent social care levy will raise a further £10 million which will directly support older people with physical disabilities, mental health needs and learning disabilities.

Despite the 3.99 per cent increase in the county council precept bringing in more money, the authority has been grappling with how best to plug its remaining £8.3 million funding shortfall.

On Tuesday, it agreed to various options to balance the budget. These included using the one-off collection of extra money provided through council tax, on the back of new housebuilding, or empty or commercial properties coming into use.

The county council levy by far the largest share of council tax at 76 per cent with the St Albans council precept, which has been pegged, accounting for 11.5 per cent and the Herts Police precept, expected to be cut by 0.55 per cent, accounting for 10 per cent. The remainder is made up of parish council precepts.