Council explains why tens of thousands of taxpayers in Harborough are facing another rise in their Council Tax bills next year
At the same time people in Harborough are almost certain to be targeted by bigger Council Tax demands from Leicestershire County Council as the embattled organisation fights to balance the books
Tens of thousands of taxpayers in Harborough are facing another rise in their Council Tax bills next year.
Residents living in a Band D property across the district are poised to have to fork out an extra £5 – stepping it up to about £178 for the year – to Harborough District Council in 2022-2023.
Householders could have to pay an extra fiver a year Council Tax to the council for the next few years as the authority battles to combat the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic.
At the same time people in Harborough are almost certain to be targeted by bigger Council Tax demands from Leicestershire County Council as the embattled organisation fights to balance the books.
Hard-hit Harborough council is also running the rule over green bin fees and car parking charges as officers and councillors work flat out to put together next year’s budget.
Today Cllr Phil King, who leads Harborough council, said all options are being actively considered as the cash-strapped authority tackles the toughest crisis it’s ever faced.
Cllr King told the Harborough Mail: “We are all living in unprecedented times following the 20-month coronavirus pandemic – and it isn’t over yet by any means.
“We are having to take on and deal with the most challenging financial situation we have ever experienced.
“Our expenditure has increased while our income has dropped,” said Cllr King, leader of the council’s ruling Conservative group.
“And as a result we have got some very difficult decisions to make as we prepare and plan next year’s council budget.”
The council chief said that their medium term financial strategy was “based on the assumption that the Council Tax will be increased for 2022-2023”.
“It’s set to climb by the same rate as this year – that’s £5 more for a Band D property in Harborough district.
“And potentially we will have to impose that increase for the next three or four years.
“People have to remember that our district council gets just nine per cent of all the Council Tax that they pay,” said Cllr King.
“The average bill in Harborough is about £1,900-a-year.
“The vast majority of that cash goes to Leicestershire County Council with the rest going off to the police, the fire service and parish councils.
“Council Tax has gone up by less than 14 per cent here in Harborough over the last five years.
“But the long-running Covid pandemic has had a big impact on our finances right across the board.
“Our expenditure has exceeded our income.
“The Government is supposed to be making up the difference – or at least helping to.
“But we won’t hear what the Government is proposing to give us until just before Christmas.
“And it’s then that we’ll have a much better idea of where we stand financially,” insisted Cllr King, who’s also a county councillor.
Asked if car parking charges across Harborough will be hiked again after they were put up this year, the long-serving councillor replied: “I don’t think we’re looking to put them up again.
“But every aspect of income generation is being reviewed at the moment.
“Nothing is off the table.
“We are still facing significant cost pressures.
“Our car parking income is still not back to where it was before the Covid pandemic struck – when all charges were suspended for a long time.
“So we have reduced income and increased costs.
“That’s the reality,” said Cllr King.
“Legally we are bound to present a properly-balanced budget for Harborough district next year.
“And we are committed to doing that without burning through a lot of our cash reserves.
“There is still a significant gap between what we bring in and what we spend year on year.
“We are facing challenges on a number of different fronts.
“The Government’s New Homes Bonus, for example, has fallen from £2.7 million two years ago to just £1.1 million.
“We are determined as always to do our best for the people and taxpayers of Harborough district as well as for our entire community,” vowed the council boss.
“But we are not out of the woods yet and we have to be honest with people – and we cannot make promises that we cannot keep.”
Cllr Phil Knowles, who heads up the Liberal Democrat opposition on the authority, is calling on the council to peg green bin garden waste fees at least.
He’s making the plea after charges spiralled by £15 to £55 this year.
“It was hugely controversial when the ruling Conservatives imposed a draconian hike of almost 40 per cent on the cost of having your green bin emptied,” said Cllr Knowles.
“I’m sure that many more people decided there and then not to pay for our green bin refuse service for 2021-2022.
“So many people and families are finding it tough at the moment as inflation goes up.
“And the cost of everyday essentials such as petrol, heating and food climbs day in day out as Christmas approaches.
“It could sound the death knell for the green bin full stop if Cllr King and his colleagues vote to increase charges again for the next 12 months.
“So I’d like the council to pledge that green bin fees won’t rise above the current £55 people are forced to pay,” Cllr Knowles told the Mail.
But Cllr King retorted: “The simple reason we increased the price of having your green bin emptied this year is because we were not recovering the full cost of the service.
“We were having to use money paid by Council Taxpayers who hadn’t opted in to the service to cover the cost.
“So we acted to make the green bin scheme pay for itself – making it cost neutral.
“Our waste and refuse services cost us almost £11 million a year in Harborough – and part of that is green waste,” said Cllr King.
“We agreed that we would review green bin charges every year – and that’s what we will do this time around.
“Our position on that principle hasn’t changed.
“So again I cannot make any promises to Cllr Knowles or anybody else on what we will do for next year.”