COUNCIL tax bills could rise in West Sussex next year following a five-year freeze, it has been revealed.
The ruling Conservative group has asked county councillors to sound out their local communities and ask what they would make of any increase.
Speaking at Tangmere Parish Council last Thursday (November 12) Chichester East councillor Simon Oakley asked the parish for its views.
“A big question that’s going to be coming up for the county council over the next few months as it sets its revenue budget for the next year is whether to increase council tax or not for the county council element of it,” he said.
“That’s a question I would like to put out to the parish council here. What are your views on that? We’ve been freezing it for the past five years.”
The answer from Tangmere was a big ‘yes’ to an increase if it meant less cuts to council services.
“I’ve previously said that it didn’t do the county council any good freezing its taxes and cutting services,” said chairman Andrew Irwin, “because at the end of the day the local county council is there to provide a service. It’s not there to reduce services.”
Vice-chairman Brian Wood labelled a council tax freeze as ‘unsustainable’.
“I think as Brian says it’s unsustainable to continue for a long period of time trying to cut down rather than to provide,” added Cllr Irwin.
Councillor Trevor Ware also raised the point people would not want to see tax rising if it was only to help fund the council’s previously-announced £676m capital replacement programme and not to help support frontline services.
Cllr Irwin continued: “At some point I think everyone agrees that cutting out waste and duplication is sensible but I think you can’t keep cutting frontline services and people’s services.
“I think that defeats the purpose of a local authority and the purpose of a local authority is to provide a service – a social service.”
Concern was raised at the backlash the county council would face if it was to raise taxes but then continue to cut services.
“What I think would be wrong would be for people to see that the rates are going up to pay an interest charge on capital projects that they’re getting no benefit from,” said Cllr Irwin.
A rise in council tax is not yet an official policy taken by the county council but is an option being considered.
West Sussex’s recent medium term financial strategy quoted a one-per-cent increase in council tax generating an extra £3.7m cash boost for the county.
The current Band D charge is £1,161.99, so a one-per-cent increase would represent an £11.62 annual rise.
The current strategy does not assume an increase in council tax.
“Any increase in the burden of council tax would therefore help to offset the savings required,” a recent county council report said.
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