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Council to consider a council tax referendum

Herefordshire residents could be asked to back an increase in council tax in a countywide referendum.

The full council will meet on Friday 24 May to discuss making significant cuts to the current budget which will affect a range of council services. 

The cuts are necessary due to serious reductions in the council’s funding from central government, which requires savings of £53million over five years.  The council has to cut £14million from this year’s budget alone.

Council tax has been set for this year, but the council could increase its income in future years if it raised the council tax, which under current rules would mean holding a referendum if the increase was to be more than 2%. 

The estimated cost of holding a countywide council tax referendum would be approximately £100,000 and a number of councillors believe that the public should be given the choice.  Herefordshire Council’s leader has currently not ruled the idea in or out for increasing council tax from April 2014.

Around a quarter of the council’s income comes from council tax.  In 2011/12 and 2012/13, Herefordshire Council did not increase the level of council tax, whilst inflation alone rose in this period by over five per cent. 

This year the council took the decision to increase the level of council tax by 1.9%, which has increased its annual income by £1.5million.

Councillor Tony Johnson, cabinet member for financial management and council leader designate, said: “Council’s face some stark choices.  In Herefordshire, we need to make significant savings across the organisation if we are to balance our budget after severe funding reductions from the government.  This means considering reductions to services which are highly valued by local people, while ensuring we protect and maintain vital services to vulnerable residents.

“We face further cuts in government support over the next few years, so we must consider the possibility of raising council tax responsibly and proportionately across the county, as we begin to consider next year’s budget.

“Before we take any steps in that direction, we need to judge whether there will be support for such an increase and my colleagues and I will be talking to local people to find out if they would be prepared to vote in favour of raising taxes to protect the county’s vital services.”

(Amendment 31 May 2013: Please be advised that we have removed the following statement from this news release, as it is inaccurate - Herefordshire residents currently pay lower levels of council tax than residents in nearby counties Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin.)