Tonbridge tax rises could be approved before end of year

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A decision to make Tonbridge residents pay more council tax could be taken before the end of this year.

Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s ‘Local Charge’ plans will see bills rising by an average of £42 a year, from £192 to £234.

A consultation over the plans found 74 per cent of respondents in Tonbridge were against the proposals but, despite public concern, members of the council’s scrutiny committee have recommended the scheme is given the green light.

According to the council, more cash needs to be generated as it faces a funding shortfall from the Government of £1.8million.

If the Local Charge plans are not adopted, residents will face cuts to public services.

One of the issues raised during the consultation was whether Tonbridge traders should pay towards services such as Christmas lights and floral displays, which are presently solely funded by the council.

As previously reported by the Times, council leader Nicolas Heslop believed residents were ‘being clobbered’ by the Government in terms of its reduced grants.

He said this was demonstrated by the local authority being among just 15 others in the country deemed to be performing well enough to have its national funding cut on an accelerated basis over the next two years.

As a means of compensation, the Government is proposing that local councils are to be allowed to keep money raised by local business rates – though uncertainty surrounds how much this could yield.

“We have been penalised for following what the Government has actually asked us to do in terms of encouraging businesses and building houses to meet population growth,” explained Cllr Heslop.

If approved, the new council tax system would mean the borough would no longer pay an annual grant totalling £226,000 towards parish areas, clawing back some of its Government funding shortfall.

It has identified a further £175,000 of savings could be made through scrapping its Council Tax Reduction Scheme funding paid to parishes.

Sharon Shelton, the borough council’s Financial Director, said residents’ feedback had been taken into consideration by members.

“Presently, people in Tonbridge pay the lowest level of council tax in the borough, which has led to some in the parishes asking if that is fair,” said the director, who said the imbalance in present rates was in part due to the fact that Tonbridge does not have its own council.

She added: “We have to look at this as an issue for the borough as a whole, and everyone’s comments have been taken into consideration.

“While nobody wants to pay more council tax, I think people understand that maybe this is the only way to  make sure that they receive the services they value.”

The Local Charge plan will be decided by the authority’s Full Council meeting in November.

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