COUNCIL leaders have repeatedly refused to abandon plans to levy "crippling" business rates on volunteer-run libraries - despite being warned it could jeopardise some of the community ventures.

Volunteers and councillors have been left aghast by Hambleton District Council making libraries in Stokesley, Thirsk, Bedale and Easingwold hand over thousands of pounds while they attempt to save the services after North Yorkshire County Council moved to stop managing them.

The county's six other district authorities have agreed to allow community-run libraries not to pay the 20 per cent business rates levy charged to charitable organisations, with one council leader saying it was "very keen to do all we can for the key community assets".

In October, Hambleton said each application for waiving business rates would be decided "on its own merits" - but Stokesley, Easingwold and Thirsk's appeals have all been rejected. Bedale has not yet submitted a bid.

Stokesley councillor Bryn Griffiths said the charge of about £4,000 was "a bit of a show-stopper" for the town's volunteer library scheme and that giving the discount to all the community-run libraries would cost Hambleton about £25,000.

He said as libraries served as town centre hubs, Hambleton council, which has about £17 million of reserves, could pay the tax through its Vibrant Market Towns fund.

The decision was taken by the authority's chief executive, Dr Justin Ives, and its leader Mark Robson.

Andy Hallett, chair of the Bedale group, said volunteers were dismayed, particularly as non-domestic rates will rise by almost 43 per cent next year.

Mr Hallett said: "Raising the money to fund the library’s running costs is challenging enough for the library’s volunteers without the additional burden of the rate increase and this apparent lack of support by Hambleton."

Len Wiles, chair of the 60-volunteer Thirsk Library steering group, one of a number due to take over running libraries in April, said: "We volunteered to manage the libraries, we didn't envisage that we were going to be fundraisers."

Cllr Robson said he did not see an issue as parish and town councils could increase the precept to make up the business rates shortfall, and that Sowerby Parish Council would do so.

He said the county council's move to off-load its non-statutory services, such as transferring the libraries to communities, had triggered the requests for rates relief and while other district councils were waiving the libraries' rates completely, he wanted Hambleton to remain among the best financially-run authorities.

Cllr Robson said despite the mounting complaints, he was adamant if the libraries were made a special case, then the authority could face having to grant 100 per cent tax relief to all the other charitable organisations in the district, leaving the council with a £350,000 bill, which he said would be enough to run a leisure centre for six months.