Council hopes to keep tax rises low

COUNCIL tax rises in a Suffolk district look set to stay in line with inflation for the second year running thanks to savings of more than £500,000 – but bosses are warning heftier hikes could be on the horizon.

COUNCIL tax rises in a Suffolk district look set to stay in line with inflation for the second year running thanks to savings of more than £500,000 – but bosses are warning heftier hikes could be on the horizon.

Officers at Babergh District Council – which covers the towns and villages around Sudbury and Hadleigh – are predicting they will increase council tax payments by only 3.1%.

Last year, the authority managed to keep increases down to 2.8%, which was in stark contrast to the almost 10% hike which went towards the overall 18.5% council tax rise for a band D property in Suffolk in 2003/04.

The news has sparked fresh concerns in the St Edmundsbury district where officials have predicted a 5% increase despite having £4.2m in reserves – compared to the Babergh figure of less than £3m.


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Babergh officials say the core factor in achieving such a low rate is a £520,000 budget saving the authority is predicting will be made throughout 2005/6.

The majority of the savings will come from the axing of temporary staff used to complete the latest Local Plan and the cutting of other staff posts. A Government support grant of £4,812,000 – a 6% increase – was also better than the authority expected.

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Although Babergh expects to have a capital programme of £2million over the year, it is anticipated reserves at the end of 2004/05 will be around £2,588,000, which is £287,000 higher then expected.

This means the authority can now cut its reserve spending from the predicted £440,000 to £315,000, which has helped make the recommended 3.1% council tax increase achievable.

Chairman of Babergh's strategy committee, Colin Spence said: "The council understands the public's concern about council tax increases and has a clear aim of doing its best to achieve increases that do not exceed the rate of inflation.

"We are very pleased to be considering an increase that does not increase inflation and councillors and officers have worked hard to achieve a budget for next year that is only 2% more than the current year."

However, papers put before members warn that it could be increasingly difficult to find savings which would keep future council tax increases in line with inflation.

Meanwhile, St Edmundsbury councillor David Nettleton has reinforced the calls for his authority to rethink its predicted 5% increase.

"If Babergh can set a rate of 3.1% with a much lower reserve, it proves St Edmundsbury could set a rate much lower than 5%," he said.

The predicted rises do not include the amounts requested by Suffolk County Council and the Police Authority.

Babergh's strategy committee will discuss the predicted 3.1% council tax hike on January 13.

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