Leaders in North Hertfordshire have said the district council “simply could not afford” to freeze council tax, after confirming plans for an increase in next year’s budget.
Later this month, the council will propose a £5-a-year increase for residents after warning that not taking action would cost the authority £250,000 a year.
The move was confirmed as the council’s Cabinet set out its draft budget at a meeting on December 21.
Read more: News about Hitchin
The council have set a target to save £200,000 a year in the medium term, with the aim of a fully balanced budget by 2026/27.
The savings will include a mixture of new income streams and efficiencies made within the council.
Beyond a Council Tax rise, the proposals to increase the council’s income include holding events in Hitchin Town Hall and North Hertfordshire Museum, and an increase in garden waste charges in line with Council Tax inflation.
A charge on the use of public toilets at three locations in the district has also been proposed, although this was not supported by councillors at a workshop to discuss where savings could be made.
During an earlier meeting of the district council’s Finance, Audit and Risk Committee, officers were also asked to calculate the cost of a freeze on council tax.
Lower tier authorities are allowed to raise Council Tax by either £5 or 2 per cent, whichever is greater, each year without needing to hold a referendum.
At December 21’s Cabinet meeting, Executive Member for Finance, Councillor Ian Albert (Labour, Hitchin Bearton) said estimates put the cost for the council at £250,000.
Cllr Albert added the council were “reluctant” to impose the rise, but argued that the council’s services were still offering value for money.
He said: “I think the question that was asked at the finance committee was, what would be the impact on the council of us freezing Council Tax? I think it’s worthwhile stating here for the record it would cost the council £250,000 a year on an ongoing basis. While our funding has slightly improved this year, that is something, simply, this council could not afford.
Sign up to the HertsLive newsletter
If you’re looking for a way to stay up to date with the latest breaking news from around Hertfordshire, the HertsLive newsletter is a good place to start.
The twice-daily update will deliver the top news and features straight to your inbox.
We choose the most important stories of the day to include in the newsletter, including crime, court news, long reads, traffic and travel, food and drink articles and more.
Signing up to the newsletter is simple. All you have to do is to click here and type in your email address.
It’s one of the many ways that you can read the news that matters to you from HertsLive.
“Whilst we are reluctant, and always are reluctant, to increase council tax, we believe in what we’re doing and the value for money in the services that we are providing, and also the work that’s done here, when you look at the savings we’ve made.
“But more importantly, look at the investments we’re making about investing in key services for our residents around food standards, environmental health, conservation and so on. We think those investments are actually something we hope that not only the council will welcome, but more importantly our residents will welcome.”
The Leader of the Council, Councillor Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg (Labour, Hitchin Walsworth) added: “I’m proud [Cllr Albert] has found a way where we are needing to increase taxes, we are doing so in a way which is fair and when we spend our money we make sure those investments and things we spend our money on are carefully chosen and are wise”.
The local authority’s Council Tax Setting Committee will meet on January 13 to discuss the plans for the rise, before decisions are made on the final budget.
In a report outlining the draft budget, the district council added there is an expectation that there will be an increase in planning income following the adoption of the council’s Local Plan next year.
The draft budget also revealed the council had made £3,000 from filming projects within the district in the past year, which is budgeted to continue at a similar level until 2026/27.
A decision on which proposals to include in any final budget will be decided later this month, before the budget is adopted by the council in February.
Want the latest Herts news direct to your inbox? Sign up here.