South Kesteven District Council approves tax rise and says front line services will not suffer

Front line services in South Kesteven will be protected for the next year following a decision to raise council tax by £5 per year on the average band D home.

The Government offered South Kesteven District Council the chance to increase its share of the council tax bill and councillors have agreed to a rise of just under 10p a week for band D properties and 6p a week for band A properties.

The money will help maintain key services after a two-year freeze on council tax and a cut in funding of £2.4 million.

District council leader Linda Neal (Con) said: “This was not any easy decision for us but if we make a small increase now it will mean that in future years we will not have to make as large an increase as we might otherwise have to.

“We have managed to maintain all our front line services despite a huge loss in funding and a very small increase in council tax will allow us to continue to do this.

“Far from simply passing on the cuts we are facing, we are still investing in our priorities and pushing ahead with existing projects.

“These include better street cleaning and removal of fly tipping, improved waste services and upgrading our car parks and council house stock.”

Coun Neal said the Government had also recognised that urban councils receive 50 per cent more per head of population than rural areas despite evidence that many services in districts like South Kesteven are more expensive to deliver because they cover such a large area.

She added: “The district council element of the council tax bill only amounts to 10 per cent of the total, so the overall impact on individual bills will be minimal, particularly as most homes in the area fall into the band A category.”

The council has saved money over the last two years by streamlining management, cutting back office costs and looking at different ways to deliver services. A further £1.4m of efficiencies and savings are in the pipeline for 2013/14.

Coun Neal added: “But that doesn’t mean we’re not planning ahead for the future. We are driving economic regeneration in the district with major projects in Grantham and Bourne and are putting all the building blocks in place to make South Kesteven a great place to live, work and invest.

“Our £536,000 investment into improving broadband speed in South Kesteven is paying off with a programme of work starting soon to deliver super fast internet coverage and target white spots where there is virtually no cover at all.”

On the homes front, 13 first time property buyers now own their own homes in the district thanks to a district council project supporting mortgage deposits with another five purchases in the pipeline.

And the district council is leading the way in a major project across the county to bring empty houses back into use.

More than 500 properties have been identified as unoccupied in the long term, which the district council defines as more than six months.

The council agreed at its budget meeting on Friday to pump extra resources into identifying home owners and contacting them to offer an incentive grant to upgrade empty houses and make them available.

Currently landlords and owners pay 50 per cent of the council tax charge for any property empty for more than six months. Under the new rules they will pay the full amount after six months and 150 per cent after two years.

District council portfolio holder for housing Terl Bryant (Con) said: “We are already tackling the issue of empty homes and we are now re-doubling our efforts.

“They constitute one per cent of all homes in South Kesteven, they are a blight on communities, can devalue neighbouring homes and a property sitting empty long term is just not acceptable in these days of great housing need.”

“There are obviously reasons why a property might be empty short term but our initial research confirms long term empty homes right across the district, all are properties that can play a useful role in the community.”

The district council also decided at the meeting to freeze the charges associated with green waste collections. The district council introduced a £25 annual charge for residents with a green bin for garden waste.

More than 10,000 households have signed up to rejoin the scheme this year.

Portfolio holder for environment John Smith (Con) said: “As a result of the success of last year’s green waste charging scheme, SKDC is holding its £25 annual charge for collection of a green wheeled bin.

“More than 26,000 residents signed up to the scheme this year and more than 1,000 additional green bins were purchased.

“In addition to this, more than 13,000 residents gave us email addresses to contact them. We sent the initial reminder to these customers on February 1 and this is the first time we have contacted residents in this way.

“We are confident that our residents value this service and hope that they continue to support the scheme for 2013/14.”

The charge for collection continues to be £25 for a single wheeled bin and £10 for each additional bin, to be collected on alternate weeks from April 1 to March 31 – and monthly in December, January and February when green waste dwindles.