A MOVE to levy the maximum council tax rise on Darlington residents without having to call a referendum has been pushed forward as the borough council’s leadership unveiled a spending plan to boost community projects.

A meeting of the Conservative-run council’s cabinet heard its plan to set an overall 4.99 per cent rise in the council tax demand from residents was to cover inflation, increased demand on services and the soaring cost of social care.

While neighbouring councils including North Yorkshire and Hambleton District have proposed freezing council tax or rises below the maximum allowed, citing concerns for residents hit by the pandemic, the proposed Darlington rise has not been challenged.

However, it emerged several schemes had been added to next year’s budget, including the creation of a £50,000 Stronger Communities Fund, after the proposed council tax rise had been tabled. Councillor Jonathan Dulston, the authority’s deputy leader, said the council’s 50 elected members would be given £1,000 each to put towards good causes.

He said: “This is an exciting initiative that we are launching to ensure councillors are equipped to support and enhance grass root community projects, such as Scouts or over-60s bingo groups.”

Leader of the opposition Labour group Councillor Stephen Harker questioned the democratic process after £850,000 of items had been added to the council’s budget for next year at a stage when it was too late for the public to comment.

Other additions to the budget included £100,000 to develop the council’s climate change action plan, which was welcomed at the meeting, £500,000 for technology equipment and funds for post-Covid recovery work. The meeting heard some members of the council’s scrutiny committees had not realised they had effectively approved the budget and would have liked to have been able to review some of the new items, but they appreciated the budget was “a moving feast”. The meeting was told the council had tried to be as transparent as possible and some spending plans had been developed recently.

Councillor Kevin Nicholson said rather than question the process, the focus needed to be on the council’s new Stronger Communities Fund which would help the most vulnerable people in the borough.