By Bruce Sinclair
PEMBROKESHIRE ratepayers will see rises of nearly £100 on average in council tax bills despite a defeated call for a lower rate.
A 7.5 per cent increase, subsidised in part by funds from the second homes council tax premium, was agreed by a full meeting of the county council on March 2.
A late counter-proposal of a 5.5 per cent increase, made by former council leader Jamie Adams was defeated by just six votes at the March 2 meeting.
Presenting the budget, Alec Cormack, Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance, said the 7.5 per cent rise represented a real-term cut in the money available, based on inflation running at a just over 10 per cent.
“If it were not for the cost-of-living crisis I would’ve been strongly recommending a 10 per cent increase,” he added.
Councillor Jamie Adams, in his proposal for a lower 5.5 per cent increase, saying: “I believe we, as a council need to reflect the situation facing our residents.”
The proposed lower council tax rate would have been funded by using more money from the council’s reserves, which has been described as “a sticking plaster” by nay-sayers.
Cllr Adams also hit out at contentious capital projects such as Haverfordwest’s transport interchange, suggesting costs could have been saved there.
Cllr Adams later said: “It’s been described as a ‘sticking plaster’. On behalf of your communities, I’m just asking for a little more help; what does a plaster do? It keeps a wound clean until it is healed.”
He was backed by Cllr Aled Thomas, who said: “If there’s ever been a 12 months when we need a ‘sticking plaster’ it is this one.”
Another backer was Cllr Reg Owens, who said the 5.5 per cent proposal would offer “a bit of relief” to the “working poor,” adding: “This isn’t a big help, but at least it shows we as councillors care.”
Cllr Cormack warned that using reserves as “a sticking plaster” for a lower council tax this year could lead to a “double-digit” council tax increase next year.
Council chair Pat Davies said she could not support Cllr Adams’ 5.5 proposal, saying historic low council tax rates in Pembrokeshire had “come back to haunt us.”
That view was echoed by Council Leader David Simpson, who said: “If you think 5.5 per cent is the answer, I’m afraid I will not be supporting it, 7.5 per cent if quite a good balance, we could’ve gone to 10 per cent,” adding: “We are in the position we are in today because we’ve had low council tax increases for many years.”
The 7.5 per cent increase in council tax was passed by 33 votes to 26.
The rise in council tax, set against a funding gap of £18.6m, will be coupled with budget savings of £8.055m and an estimated use of £1.6m of reserves.
It will see the base annual bill of the average Band D property rise by £93.69, to £1,342.86, before the police precept and town or community council bills are added.
Members also agreed to use funds from the second homes council tax premium, following a previous warning that ratepayers would be facing a 12.9 per cent increase if they were not used.