COUNCIL tax will rise again in County Durham after councillors approved budget plans for the coming year.

Durham County Council gave the green light to increase bills by 3.99 per cent at Wednesday’s budget meeting.

The rise is made up of a 1.99 per cent increase in base council tax and a 2 per cent Government levy to help with mounting social care costs.

From April, council tax payers in the lowest value Band A properties, which make up the majority of homes in the county, will pay an extra 81p a week towards council services.

For an average Band D home the rise represents an extra £1.22 a week.

Police and fire chiefs in the region will also increase their portion of the council tax precept to balance the books.

Council leader Simon Henig said the council’s 2020/21 budget fell against a decade of Government funding cuts and more uncertainty around future funding.

He said: “Let us hope that the Government’s forthcoming spending and fair funding reviews bring a permanent end to the damaging decade of austerity and allows continued investment in County Durham in the years ahead."

Deputy leader and Cabinet member for finance, Councillor Alan Napier, also raised concerns about the future of the public health grant and social care funding under the changes.

He added that Government assumes councils will increase council tax by the maximum allowed.

The tax hike comes as bosses look to save £32million by 2023/2024 on top of the £250million already lost from Government grants over the last decade.

Despite budget pressures, council chiefs pledged to protect the county’s most vulnerable by continuing their council tax reduction scheme offering up to 100 per cent relief for eligible households.

Council bosses added Durham is the only North East council to do so and one of 36 in England.

Spending plans include £31million of investments into frontline services in coming years, including road improvements and pothole repairs, new clean-up teams and 11 extra community wardens.

Other highlights include a further £10million into towns and villages – taking the total reserve pot up to £20 million – and funding boosts for climate change projects, tackling poverty and social care for children and adults.

The authority is also investing £444million over the next four years in its capital programme, with £104 million earmarked for 2020/21.

Projects include updating or building leisure facilities and schools and extra spending on highways and major transport schemes.

At the budget meeting, several opposition councillors hit back at the spending plans stating they were motivated by next year's council elections.

Opposition groups submitted budget amendments.

Liberal Democrats called for more community funding or the expansion of the ‘Link 2 Accessible Bus Service’ into weekends. Although the motion was defeated, Labour bosses said bus changes would be explored in a future review.

Proposals from Durham County Council’s Independent group included axing the council’s newsletter and reducing the communications team to free up funds to reduce council tax and reopen the DLI building.

Durham Independent Group called for cash injections into neighbourhood budgets – providing an extra £3,000 per year to all 126 county councillors to spend improving their wards.

Spennymoor Independent Group called for an extra £500,000 to be distributed to Area Action Partnerships across the county for ‘infrastructure and environmental projects.’

And the Conservative group’s amendments ranged from a new £160,000 gully tanker to help clear roadside drains to dedicated tourism and community buildings funds and an evening bus service from Barnard Castle to Upper Teesdale.

After hours of debate, the budget proposed by the ruling Labour group was passed with 70 votes in favour, 33 against and three abstentions. The council tax element was also voted through with 74 votes in favour and 31 against.