Published: 13:36, 26 January 2021
| Updated: 19:35, 26 January 2021
Controversial plans to increase council tax by 5% for Kent residents from April have been described as "painful" ahead of a crunch vote.
Kent County Council's (KCC) Conservative cabinet met yesterday and endorsed their £1.1billion budget plans for the next financial year, which includes spending pledges for adult social care and school transport.
Amid "uncertainty" over the rising costs from the pandemic, more than 1.5 million residents living in Kent's 12 districts may need to fork out an extra £37million to help "balance" the county council's budget.
KCC cabinet member for environment, Cllr Susan Carey (Con), defended the tax proposals during a virtual meeting yesterday. She told her nine cabinet colleagues: "It does feel there is an enormous amount of risk, more than ever."
However, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have opposed the additional "unfair financial burden" on Kent taxpayers.
The annual KCC council tax bill could increase by £60 for a band C home, rising from £1,200 to £1,260.
At cabinet, Cllr Carey said the government "expects" councils to raise taxes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak told local authorities in November they can increase by 4.99%, mainly to help manage rising social care costs.
"We need reserves for a rainy day, but if it is not raining now, when is it going to?"
However, Labour leader Keir Starmer has called on Whitehall Ministers to scrap the 5% hikes to ease the pressure on struggling families.
The brewing political row comes just days after it was revealed that some of the revenue will be used to "bolster" KCC reserves.
The extra cash will be needed for "unforeseeable circumstances" in the future, County Hall's cabinet was told yesterday.
KCC's cabinet member for finance, Cllr Peter Oakford (Con) said: "As you are aware we are in a period of great uncertainty, which does not currently have any end in sight.
"The budget has been developed to reflect this and ensure the council is able to support residents over the next financial year and beyond."
If approved, KCC council tax would make up 73% of its £1.1bn total spending power for the next financial year, around £802million. During the austerity years in 2015, Kent residents were paying 61% of KCC's £899m budget.
Although, households can claim discounts, such as 25% off the council tax bill for people living on their own.
At cabinet, Cllr Carey said: "Although it is painful for us and our residents, it is in some way very good that we are moving to a situation where we have a much greater share of our expenditure covered by our council tax.
"It is less risky for us to provide those services which are so relied on, particularly for the most vulnerable."
Opposition leaders have opposed the tax hikes. KCC's main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), said: "It is an unfair burden on residents."
Meanwhile, KCC's Labour group leader Dara Farrell added: "We need reserves for a rainy day, but if it is not raining now, when is it going to?
"KCC needs to stand up for the people of Kent and ask the government for more money to help us."
All 81 elected members will decide whether to approve the proposals on February 11 during KCC's budget meeting.