THE North-East’s biggest local authority is set to raise council tax for the first time in five years, as austerity cuts continue to bite.
Labour chiefs at Durham County Council are pushing for a 1.99 per cent hike – the maximum allowed before a costly local referendum is triggered.
That would raise around £3.29m, helping to lessen the impact of the £23m of savings facing the council in the year ahead. The authority expects to have cut £113.9m since 2011 by the end of this financial year – but another £110.1m will be needed over the next three years.
The council has already cut leisure centres, library opening hours and home-to-school transport and is looking at closing more care homes.
It is expected 1,950 jobs will have been lost by March next year.
Last week, Conservative leader Richard Bell called on Labour to accept the Government’s offer of a council tax freeze grant worth £2.04m – the equivalent of a one per cent rise.
But Simon Henig, the council’s Labour leader, said the grant expected councils to foot part of the bill.
A 1.99 per cent rise would mean Band A householders paying an extra 33p a week for their council services.
Meanwhile, council house rents would go up on average 4.62 per cent, or £3.03 per week; and garage rents would go up by 3.2 per cent.
Liberal Democrats have called for a council tax freeze. The Tories and Independents are yet to announce alternative proposals.
Labour’s budget includes £262m of investment, including £30.2m for highways improvements and major projects across Durham City, Bishop Auckland, Peterlee, Seaham, Stanley, Crook and Spennymoor.
There would be £1.3m more for winter maintenance and a pioneering Local Council Tax Support Scheme would be extended, meaning no working-age council tax benefit claimant would see their payment reduced until spring 2015 at the earliest.
Councillor Henig said: “We are maintaining a very significant focus on investment across the county which aims to boost local economies and create jobs.
“This support remains essential to safeguard our economic future.”
The Labour cabinet will agree its proposals next Wednesday (February 12) before the council sets its budget on Wednesday, February 26.