'Sorry, we're raising council tax'

A COUNCIL leader last night apologised to residents for a hike in council tax way ahead of inflation, brought in despite an election night pledge to keep increases down.

By John Howard

A COUNCIL leader last night apologised to residents for a hike in council tax way ahead of inflation, brought in despite an election night pledge to keep increases down.

Roger Saunders, leader of the Conservative administration at Mid Suffolk District Council, was speaking after councillors fiercely debated the authority's budget and finally voted through a 6% rise during a meeting at their Needham Market chambers last night by 21 votes to seven.

For a Band D home, residents would this year have paid £115.47, a figure that will now go up by £6.93 to £122.40 for 2004/5 for the district council element of the bill.

The rest of the bill is made up by levies from the county council, town or parish councils and the police.

The administration had hoped to keep rises down to 3%, but has been left cash-strapped after a worse than expected grant from central Government.

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Mr Saunders said: "Everyone realises we have had a dire financial situation to deal with and our financial officer has told us 6% is the lowest we can possibly go forward with.

"We are sorry it's 6%. We had set a target to limit it to 3%.

"It's unfortunate we found ourselves in this dire financial situation, we realise it's painful and we are sorry. But sadly this is the reality. The Government has not helped by giving us less money than we believed we would receive."

But Clive Crane, Liberal Democrat, said: "The administration's budget has a 6% council tax increase, a 100% increase in car parking charges, whole scale deep cuts in services, 30 (council staff) jobs cut, £1 million plundered from reserves and leaves an authority crippled to near bankruptcy. That's what a Tory administration means.''

Penny Otton, Liberal Democrat group leader, dismissed much of the blame levelled at her group which ruled the council for years with Labour, adding: "To continue to try and put the blame on us, four, six, 12 months after does not work.''

Duncan Macpherson, Labour, added that a tiny further rise in council tax amounting to a penny a day on each person's bill could have saved so many areas where the Conservatives have cut back.

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