Published: 14:13, 15 March 2021
| Updated: 14:16, 15 March 2021
It’s that dreaded time of year when Council Tax bills are being sent out.
It’s notorious for being one of the most hated bills and after the year we’ve had, an increase is not the welcome news we wanted.
Last month, during a meeting of the policy and resources committee, councillors at Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) voted in favour of increasing the tax by 2% from April, the maximum permitted by Government legislation without having to seek a referendum.
While the increase seems like a low blow, one of the reasons for the rise is because like most of us, the council has also been impacted financially by the pandemic.
It has made less money through things such as parking and business rates yet it still needs to fund the vital day-to-day services that contribute to the running, and improvement of the borough.
Whatever the reason, the rise will always be unpopular so as bills start arriving on our doorsteps, it might help to understand exactly where the money is being spent.
Those in an average Band D property will now have to pay £1,988.63, which is £89.34 more than last year.
What a lot of people don't know is that just 13.6% of the total, so £270.90, goes to Maidstone Borough Council (MBC). The rest is split between Kent County Council (KCC), Kent Police and Kent Fire and Rescue Service.
KCC will get the main bulk of 71.3%, the police will get 10.9% and the fire service will receive just over 4%.
Where there is a parish council, it also includes a parish precept.
While the increase works out as 4.7% overall, the part given to MBC has only increased by 2% which works out as £5.13, less than the price of a meal at McDonalds.
That extra money from everyone living in Maidstone is roughly £340,000 a year which will add to the pot of money which pays for everything from bin collections, museums, housing and maintaining the environment.
Out of the £270.90, just £7.69 is spent on planning and economic development which funds everything from planning applications to building control and business support in the area.
Some 19.8%, or £53.74, goes towards the environment and health paying for things like street cleaning, environmental health and bereavement services.
Exactly £45.74 will fund refuse collection and disposal while £53.36 will go towards housing which covers those who need temporary accommodation, housing advice and housing benefit administration.
The biggest chunk is spent on recreation and tourism. £80.72 goes towards maintaining our museums, parks and open spaces, as well as leisure and sports facilities.
£24.72 is used for other services such as licensing, democratic representation, office accommodation and central services, and the remaining 1.9% is set aside for transfers to reserves, the money earmarked for future capital expenditure.
Cllr Martin Cox, Chair of the MBC Policy and Resources Committee said: “Although many people will not welcome the Council Tax bill it does serve as a reminder that councils provide a variety of important services which they have continued to deliver including refuse collection and street sweeping, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“MBC services have played a big part in the government’s response to the coronavirus, for example supporting vulnerable people and helping to organise virus testing.
"Looking to the future, the council will have an important part to play in the recovery from the coronavirus.”
And while it's obvious the pandemic has played its part, Cllr Cox added the increase is not solely down to this.
He said: "As a council we have taken on different jobs and roles to assist the community.
"We have considered that to be in our normal duties. Adapting has always been part of our role, this time it has just been because of Covid.
"I’m not trying to plead poverty, we just want people to understand the bill and why it has gone up."
Council Tax is the largest source of income for MBC, accounting for £17.2million out of its total income of just under £40million.
It also gets a share of £4.1million from business rates, but this is just 7% of the total collected, with most going to central government.
The rest of its income comes from fees, charges and other income raised locally.
"... although it is not particularly popular with residents, it means there will be a council here in the foreseeable future to deliver the essential services that we provide."
Mark Green, MBC Director of Finance and Business Improvement explains one of the reasons for the increase comes from fewer people visiting the county town.
He said: "Some of the things we have relied on in the past like car parking fees are probably not going to recover for a year or so to levels that we have seen before so it's essential we increase the tax.
"But as well as this, every year the prices of the goods and services we provide go up. When this happens, inevitably we have to increase our revenue by the same amount to cover those costs.
"When people go around the borough, they can see all the things the council does from cleaning the streets, looking after parks and open spaces and I would like to think we provide very good value in all the things we deliver."
Other reasons for the increase have been put down to expenditure pressures, including combatting homelessness, and providing social care for the county council, which are continuing to increase.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned around one in 12 English councils are at significant risk of financial failure as a result of the pandemic.
For councils that have struggled, often there is a correlation between financial difficulty, and lower Council Tax.
Mr Green explains: "By keeping the tax at the level we are, although it is not particularly popular with residents, it means there will be a council here in the foreseeable future to deliver the essential services that we provide.
"Like people in other parts of the country, we don't have to worry about the council going bankrupt."
Mr Green added: “As the UK emerges from the pandemic, local councils like MBC have an important part to play in the recovery.
"The government has provided one-off funding to councils to help them deal with the consequences of the pandemic. Maidstone has deliberately set aside £860,000 of funding that we are due to receive from the government specifically for expenditure on the response and recovery and is currently planning how to make sure that this is deployed as effectively as possible.”