Waveney council tax plans revealed

Councillors in Waveney are being asked to ditch their annual expenses increase to help reduce the hike in council tax for the next year.The Conservative-led authority yesterday proposed a 3.

Councillors in Waveney are being asked to ditch their annual expenses increase to help reduce the hike in council tax for the next year.

The Conservative-led authority yesterday proposed a 3.9pc increase in its share of the council tax after admitting it had initially been looking at a 5.2pc rise.

The council agreed in November to a 2.5pc increase in expenses for 2009/10, but leader Mark Bee has proposed this should be frozen to mitigate the impact of the tax increase during the current economic crisis.

Waveney had pledged to peg the increase in its share of the council tax to the rate of inflation in the previous September, which was just over 5pc in 2008.

The proposal to freeze the increase in expenses will be voted on by the full council at the end of the month, but Mr Bee revealed he had already received the full backing from Conservative members.

The freeze would save the council �10,000 and a drive to make savings elsewhere within the authority has already led to 28 people taking voluntary redundancy and a further 37 posts not being replaced after people left their jobs.

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Council bosses yesterday admitted the drive for savings would continue, with an increase of just 2.75pc in government funding, but insisted there were no plans for compulsory redundancies or cuts to frontline services.

Mr Bee said: 'Historically, Waveney has set a low council tax in comparison to other authorities in the region and has deemed it both appropriate and reasonable to mirror the rate of inflation as part of its medium-term financial strategy.

'This year, however, such a policy would have seen Waveney's portion increase by 5.2pc and while this would clearly help the council's financial position, it is important that we respond to the concerns of our communities in difficult financial times.'

Waveney council has faced a difficult financial year, having to plug a potential budget gap of �2.3m. There has already been a �1.9m reduction in the salary budget, but the council admitted it was still in negotiations to avoid having to repay up to �3m to the Department of Work and Pensions for overpaid benefits.

Waveney takes 10pc of the overall council tax and its proposals equate to an increase of less than 45p per month for residents living in band D properties. Suffolk County Council, which takes 80pc of the tax, has already announced a 2.45pc increase.

Waveney came under fire for setting a low increase of just 1.8pc in its share of the council tax last year before discovering its financial problems. These came to light following a forensic review of budgets by the council's new management team.

Mr Bee added: 'It's an unfair criticism and we will be damned if we do and damned if we don't. It would have been easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to have predicted the economic downturn.'

Andrew Shepherd, leader of the council's Liberal Democrat group, supported the proposals to freeze the increase in expenses, but said: 'It's all very well to keep the council tax increase down to 3.9pc, but they are increasing the stealth taxes on things like charges for parking and other services.'

Labour group leader Malcolm Cherry did not want to comment until he had studied this year's budget proposals.

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