Today’s Council Meeting was interesting because it was the one at which the Members set the rate of Council Tax for Babergh for 2009/10.
As anticipated on the blog in ‘The Year Ahead’ post in January, the rate for Babergh's share of the tax will be a 2.9 percent increase on last year’s figure. This amounts to something like 7 pence per week for all of us. The increase for council tax as a whole will be around the same figure since a rise of almost 5% for the Police is offset by a rather lower rise from the County Council.
Babergh continues to charge the second lowest Council Tax in Suffolk, is in the bottom 25% of the Country as a whole, and has for a sixth year running managed to keep the rise at or close to the rate of inflation. This has been no mean feat, and means that residents receive all of Babergh’s services for a direct payment of around £2.70 a head which really isn’t bad value for money in my view.
Of course the services do cost a lot more than this to provide. Many people don’t realise that Council Tax is only a proportion of the income received by the Council which still relies heavily on funding from Central Government. This means that some of us are also paying indirectly through our income tax.
The meeting was enlivened by a certain amount of debate. I had suggested some time ago in open forum that the level of tax should be frozen bearing in mind the difficulties that many of our residents are suffering a drop in income due to the economic crisis. This was picked up by Councillor Arthey, who felt that this continued to be a good idea and explicitly wondered why I had changed my mind.
The truth is that I did think the initially suggested increase of 3.5% WAS too high, and was to some extent merely challenging my fellow Councillors to come in with something rather lower. Additionally, as the scrutiny of the budget continued over recent weeks, I became persuaded that an increase of zero would send out the wrong message. As I said at today’s meeting Babergh faces some extremely difficult challenges ahead, and the possible stalling of Local Government Review means that we cannot rely on the abolition of the council to resolve our financial difficulties. A zero percent rise might be seen to imply imply that the Council is flush with cash, and this is far from the truth.