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Council tax set to break £1,000 barrier

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COUNCIL tax payers in Kent are facing an inflation-breaking nine per cent increase in bills this year.

Kent County Council’s Conservative administration will be outlining proposals for the increase on Monday as councillors take the first steps in the annual budget-setting process. The increase – expected to come in at 9.2per cent - would mean average bills for householders in Band D homes – those valued at between £68,000 and £88,000 – will rise from £694 to £756.

It will be the second year running that the KCC bill has significantly outstripped inflation. Last year’s increase was 6.3per cent. Many homeowners could well find their final bill breaking the £1,000 mark for the first time once the district and borough councils, together with the police authority, decide on their council tax levels, which will be added to the final bill.

County Hall leaders are expected to claim that the above inflation hike is down to the government’s failure to give them enough cash for key services. In particular, KCC will highlight what it believes is a £10million funding gap in social services.

Conservative council leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said: “In Kent our increase would be six per cent without the need to pay more for social services. That is putting an extra three per cent on bills. I am reluctant to ask council tax payers for an additional three per cent but I am equally reluctant to let down elderly and vulnerable people who need our services. That would be disastrous.”

Although Kent has received a 5.3per cent increase in money for social services for 2002-2003, the county council says that is still not enough to deal with the principal problem of having to pay more to look after elderly people in care homes.

Overall KCC, which accounts for the largest chunk of council tax bills, has been given £745million by the government to fund services next year – an increase of £44million. The total budget will be slightly more than £1billion.

Opposition parties condemned the reported increase. Liberal Democrat spokesman Cllr Linda Cufley said: “There has to be something wrong when we get the best government settlement for years and yet we are looking at huge increases in the council tax.” Labour opposition leader Cllr Mike Eddy said: “The government has come up with an additional £60million in grants, which is a lot of money.”

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