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Kent County Council approves 5% tax hike to 'bolster' reserves


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The average household in Kent will pay at least £73 more a year after KCC approved a 5% council tax hike.

Kent Police had already upped their section of the five-part payment by 7.4%, taking Band C property's contribution from £180 to £193.

The council tax hike would mean Kent homeowners fork out an extra £37million annually
The council tax hike would mean Kent homeowners fork out an extra £37million annually

KCC's increase means those in that band will pay an additional £60 on top of the current £1,201 annual payment.

The authority previously said the extra funds would be used to "bolster" its reserves ahead of today's vote.

On top of the county and police contribution residents also pay tax to their local authority (Maidstone, Dartford etc), the fire service and, depending on where they live, parish councils.

The fire service's charge for last year was £70 whereas the other sections vary according to location, in Dartford, which is proposing freezing its payment for the next year, you pay £161 if you live in a Band C property but in Maidstone you pay £237.

If you live in Boughton Malherbe parish in Maidstone you pay £24 a year but if you live in the town's most expensive parish, Headcorn, you fork out, £122.56.

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The majority of those fees are also likely to increase this year meaning it is likely Band C households will end up paying around £100 a year more.

Last month Maidstone County Hall unveiled its budget plans for the next financial year amid "unprecedented" circumstances caused by the pandemic.

The county's 1.58 million residents will now fork out an extra £37million.

It comes after 55 County Hall councillors voted through the contentious £1.1billion proposals during a heated virtual meeting involving 81 elected members.

KCC's cabinet member for finance, Cllr Peter Oakford (Con), said the 4.99% hike, for adult social care and general spending, is needed to prevent "brutal" cuts to frontline services and "best possible budget in the circumstances."

KCC cabinet member for finance, Cllr Peter Oakford (Con) pictured during during the meeting. Picture: KCC
KCC cabinet member for finance, Cllr Peter Oakford (Con) pictured during during the meeting. Picture: KCC

Explaining there was no "bottomless money pit" at KCC, he said: "I do not want to be in a position to propose a council tax increase, but I have no choice."

Meanwhile, KCC's leader Roger Gough (Con) said the council faced a "rainy day" with regards to its financial position for some years to come.

Opposition groups, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Greens, angrily contested the decision given the financial impact of Covid on families struggling to pay bills, or hold down jobs.

KCC's Labour group leader Dara Farrell said residents would be paying "higher taxes for less services" as his five party members voted against it.

Meanwhile, KCC's main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), whose all seven party members also objected, warned the budget "will not stand test of time" given the future uncertainties over the economic impacts of lockdown.

'Though many of us can afford 5% council tax increases, few of us know how tough it is for some households struggling to make ends meet...'

The Maidstone Central county councillor: "Though many of us can afford 5% council tax increases, few of us know how tough it is for some households struggling to make ends meet."

However most Conservative county councillors strongly defended the tax hike, with the fees making up 70% of total spending on key services, including caring for the elderly, pothole repairs and cutting carbon emissions.

Some council tax relief has been offered to the most vulnerable, including a £50 rebate for struggling families and around £10million of emergency grant funding was announced earlier this week, including crowdfunding charities.

Ashford county Cllr Charlie Simkins (Con) said 51% of just under 3,000 Kent residents backed tax rises in a consultation last year, less than 1% of people in the county. He said: "Being responsible, we have no option but to do it."

Tunbridge Wells county Cllr Sean Holden (Con) added: "I am ready to tell people we must have this rise to keep our services together. Residents need strong answers and political leadership that dares to do the right thing."

Cllr Sean Holden
Cllr Sean Holden

It comes two days after Tory members, including a former cabinet member, were suspended due to their public opposition to the inflated tax hike.

County Hall's green party leader Cllr Martin Whybrow, said KCC is one of a "minority of councils" to raise fees to the maximum government allowance.

Neighbouring Surrey County Council's Conservative authority has only proposed to increase their taxes by 2.49%, half of the government limit.

Margate county Cllr Barry Lewis (Lab) said the tax hike was "shameful" as Gravesham Borough Council leader John Burden (Lab), also a county councillor, said: "This is not a budget can support. It's inadequate."

KCC's corporate director for finance, Zena Cooke who has over 30 years' council finance experience, said: "In my entire career I have never experienced the level of uncertainty and financial risk when putting together a budget."

'This is not a budget can support. It's inadequate...'

She described KCC's reserve levels as "sufficient" but were at the "lower end of adequacy" compared to England's hundreds of other local authorities.

Maidstone County Hall also faces a "significant reduction" in tax collections. This comes as low-income households can claim discounts, such as 25% off the council tax bill for people living on their own.

On reserves, Mr Shipton said the 5% tax rise, which was touted to be about 4% last October, is required to manage "potential future risks" and prevent cuts to frontline services.

He suggested there will be an increased demand for elderly residents requiring social and health support amid Covid.

In summary, Cllr Oakford said: "If we do not put through the increases, that government has asked, it will be more difficult for us to go back and continue lobbying for further funds to support areas such as education, where we need more help."

No further financial support packages for KCC have been announced by the government beyond April 2022 and residents in Kent will have to start paying the extra 5% council tax hike at the start of the next financial year on April 1.

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