COUNCIL tax bills in Rother will not rise in the next financial year, despite a last-gasp Liberal Democrat call for a modest increase to offset possible problems at a later stage.
By freezing tax demands for 2012/13, Rother District Council can claim a government grant of £178,000.
But at a full council meeting on Monday, Cllr Kevin Dixon, the Lib Dems’ leader, tabled an amendment which would have seen the charge on a Band D property rise by £5.64, or 3.5 per cent, to £166.83.
He argued that the Conservatives’ preference for no rise at all was potentially storing up trouble for the future, with the prospect of a £1 million deficit over the next five years. And the budget recommended by Cabinet would use £1.4 million from council reserves.
Cllr Dixon said: “What we’re proposing would amount to an increase of 11p a week for a taxpayer in a Band D property, and vulnerable people, such as those on benefits, are protected and would not have to pay it anyway.
“After cuts already made there is very little fat left on the bone, and our concern is that council services will be lost unless we improve our revenue flow. The use of reserves is unsustainable.”
Lib Dem colleague Cllr Kathryn Field called the tax freeze “irresponsible” and told the ruling party: “You’re committing a huge act of faith, hoping that when push comes to shove it will be okay. But you can’t just make cuts - you have to raise income as well.”
Former Lib Dem leader Sue Prochak predicted a financial “black hole” in five years’ time, which would have to be addressed by reducing council services at a time when they were most likely to be needed. She said: “The public hate decisions based on short-term politics”.
Labour’s Cllr Sam Souster said he felt people would have been prepared to accept a small increase in council tax, providing the reasons for it were well argued and clearly explained.
But Conservative Cllr Robin Patten said he had been “seriously surprised” to find that there were “a great deal of people to whom it does make a difference” and added: “If we can reduce the burden on those people then it must be our job to do so.”
Council leader Cllr Carl Maynard said even “honest, hard-working families” were finding it hard to cope in the current financial climate and any increase in their household bills could prove critical.
He said: “We are in difficult times and we need to give a clear message. Rother is the beacon authority in East Sussex, with the lowest council tax. We have always had excellent officers and a prudent approach from members, and we think no increase is the best option.”
The council voted for a tax freeze and the Lib Dems’ amendment was lost.