By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Kent residents will pay almost 3% extra on their tax bill for their county council services from April.
The controversial hikes were approved by a majority of County Hall councillors during a heated debate at the Kent Showground in Maidstone.
It means that Band D households will be paying an additional £42.48 compared to the last financial year, marking a rise of around £1,418 to £1,461.
KCC’s cabinet member for finance, Cllr Peter Oakford (Con) said it was an “extremely tough” decision to make, but said it was necessary to maintain frontline services and balance the books.
Cllr Oakford, who is also KCC’s deputy leader, said: “We recognise there will be an impact on residents, but we have tried to minimise this as much as possible.”
It means there will be a 2.99% increase in KCC tax, equal to about 82p per week extra for a Band D household.
KCC’s Conservative administration says this will help to meet increased spending on adult social care and cover costs that cannot be met by government funding alone.
The majority of Conservatives voted in favour, but four rebelled in the final vote.
Opposition parties, including Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens, warned the financial security for households is looking “increasingly bleak” this year amid major tax hikes across the board for energy, food and councils.
In another part of Kent, Dartford Borough Council has opted not to raise its precept, but freeze council tax for a second year running.
Dr Cllr Lauren Sullivan (Lab), KCC’s main opposition leader, said: “We have a budget that is desperate and does not know which way to turn. The council has hit rock bottom.”
Cllr Steve Campkin, of the Greens, said: “Will we see more Kent residents facing debt as result?”
Council tax contributes about 70% of income for KCC. This will generate £823million from a £1.182billion revenue budget, according to a County Hall report.
This covers a population of 1.589 million people.
On top of the contribution residents also pay tax to their district and borough council, police, the fire service and, depending on where they live, parish councils.
Services include adult social care, expansion of schools, special educational needs transport and climate change.
Last year, KCC taxpayers paid an additional 4.99% for adult social care and general spending amid pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Around £750million of savings have been made by KCC over the last 11 years, including the years of austerity, Brexit and Covid.
KCC’s leader Roger Gough said the latest tax rises marked a “sombre note” while Cllr Oakford said the council faced a major reduction in government grant help, such as Covid emergency support packages.
Cllr Paul Bartlett, who is KCC’s chair of public health, added: “KCC is one of the soundest councils to deliver more for less.”
However, a £5million contract to support homelessness people is being cut while families will be expected to pay more for a discounted school pass, the Kent Travel Saver.
Margate county councillor Cllr Barry Lewis (Lab) warned: “You are expecting people to pay more for fewer services.”
He added: “We are not treating people like human beings, but cash machines.”