COUNCIL tax in Bolton could rise for a second year in a row — despite a £1 million offer from the government to freeze the levy.
Town hall bosses have asked for councillors’ views on plans to raise the council’s household charge by 1.95 per cent across all properties — the equivalent of 31p a week, or £16.12 a year for band A homes.
If approved at a full meeting of the council on February 26, the increase will raise an extra £1.6 million — funds which have already been built into the budget plans for 2014 to 2015.
Leader of Bolton Council Cllr Cliff Morris said the Labour group had not yet decided whether it will support a freeze, but confirmed a rise of two per cent had been planned for next year’s budget.
Councils which plan to raise council tax by more than two per cent must hold a public referendum.
Cllr Morris said: “We’ve always said we would raise it by two per cent — it’s in our budget report.
“We haven’t made our minds up yet. We know that we can’t go above two per cent and it’s like everything else. It’s a balance.”
Bolton Council is looking to save £21.7 million next year, with cost-cutting plans including reducing the amount of street cleaning, the subsidy for free swimming lessons and axing the budget for allotments.
It has already made £60 million worth of savings since 2010, by cutting more than 1,000 jobs, closing five libraries, reducing numerous services and axing Animal World, one of the town’s most-loved attractions.
Last year, council tax rose 3.5 per cent, after waste and transport levies and fire and police precepts.
The council has frozen the tax for three of the past five years.
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In Bolton, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have argued that a hike in council tax for residents could and should be avoided.
The report to cabinet on Monday shows there is a one-off surplus balance of £1.6 million available in 2014/15 to either invest in initiatives or add to general balances.
Leader of Bolton’s Conservative group Cllr David Greenhalgh said his party would press for no increase in council tax — as the group did last year.
He said: “There’s a £1.6 million surplus this year and we strongly believe that this should be used to freeze council tax.
“The government’s grant is £1 million — but we think as we have got this surplus we should absolutely pass it on to the residents and give hard working families a boost.
“Money in residents’ pockets will circulate and be spent in local business, which we feel is beneficial overall to the whole community.
“Every little helps, and it gives the sense that the council is doing something for people during this very tough time.”
Cllr Roger Hayes, leader of the Bolton Liberal Democrats, argued that there should be a council tax freeze this year as the council can afford it.
He said: “I think residents need the assistance, and if you look at many of the council’s services there has been an under-spend in some departments.
“There are various sources of capital revenue and of course we will get a fairly large receipt from the sale of a large part of the historic Smithills estate to the Woodland Trust — not to mention the nest egg from the airport dividend.
“We will be listening to what happens, but one thing we need to do is spend money upgrading residential roads — they are in a shocking state.”
Councillors who are members of Bolton Council’s cabinet will hear the report in full at a meeting on Monday.
A final decision on the rise — in addition to the rest of the council’s budget for 2014/15 — will be taken at the full council meeting on Wednesday, February 26.