COUNCILLORS have signalled that financially hard-pressed residents will gain a council tax freeze across Worthing and Adur this year.
The decision, which would be the third time in as many years for the two authorities, came against council officer advice – which had stated a preference for raising rates by a total of 1.9 per cent.
This would have been at the maximum level possible before a public referendum on the issue would have been triggered under new government guidelines.
But members of the joint overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favour of advising the councils’ cabinets against increasing tax, believing that as a potential triple-dip recession looms on the horizon, tax payers were not in a position to afford the rises.
Worthing Borough Council voted in favour of a freeze at a meeting on Monday evening, with Shoreham set to rubber-stamp the same scenario this evening (Thursday).
It follows a zero per cent increase recommended by Sussex Police’s element of the overall council tax bill, leaving only West Sussex County Council to make its decision on the final cost to the area’s ratepayers in just over a week’s time. It is widely-anticipated to follow the trend of zero per cent rises.
Worthing councillor Roger Oakley firmly believed maintaining rates as they were of critical importance.
Speaking after the scrutiny meeting, he acknowledged finance officer Sarah Gobey’s advice, but felt a further tax freeze was the best course of action.
He said: “The 200-page report presented to councillors recommended a choice between a zero per cent or 1.9 per cent increase.
“However, every penny counts in these difficult times and because it is the public purse that is being considered, decisions are not taken lightly.”
Worthing Borough Council leader Paul Yallop shared his views on the issue.
He said: “We’ll not be putting our council tax up as I think it sends the wrong message in these times.
“But we do have concerns about the grant we are getting, the council tax freeze grant from the Government, which is a one- off payment meaning we would have to use funds from elsewhere for this in future years.”
Neil Parkin, leader of Adur District Council, also warned that freezing tax would not be sustainable, but revealed a majority view had been reached within the cabinet.
He said: “We’ve not raised council tax for three years now, which amounts to a reduction of around 10 per cent in real terms for people over that time.
“We have had to make cuts to budgets as a result of that, but we want to help as much as we are able to.”
Another key issue to arise from the meeting was the serious IT council failures last November, that left services down across departments.
Councillor Clive Roberts described the situation as “a disaster” and confirmed he would be billing the IT company for lost earnings which significantly affected the council’s leisure facilities across the area.
He said the IT department would be asked to foot an estimated bill of around £16,000 in terms of lost revenue across the council due to the failure.