Hundreds call for council tax freeze
RESIDENTS have launched a petition demanding city councillors freeze council tax.
Cabinet members and senior officers at Stoke-on-Trent City Council are this week holding talks on how the authority will find up to £50 million more budget cuts over the next two years.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is again offering a financial incentive to councils that agree to freeze tax from April next year.
The offer on the table for 2013/14 is equivalent to just a one per cent increase and the Government says it will force councils imposing increases above two per cent to hold a referendum.
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But some residents fear the Labour-controlled council will still look to increase tax after it snubbed last year's one-year freeze offer and increased bills by 3.49 per cent.
Alan Joynson, of Boothen, has already collected 300 signatures in Stoke and plans to visit Fenton Market today and Tunstall Market tomorrow to gather support for the pre-emptive campaign.
The 64-year-old said: "Front line services are being taken away, community halls are closing and everything in the city seems to be disappearing, yet tax has gone up and the council is borrowing £40 million to pay for a new Civic Centre.
"The council is spending money it hasn't got. That is someone else's money, and this petition is about sending them a message that enough is enough.
"They were one of very few in the country not to take up Eric Pickles's offer last year and if they want to put tax up again then they should hold a referendum. If it goes their way then fair enough."
Neighbouring Staffordshire County Council, which is Tory-run, has already pledged to freeze tax in 2013/14.
But other local authorities had budgeted to receive more cash than a one per cent freeze incentive will provide.
Staffordshire Fire and Rescue banked on a four per cent increase on its five per cent levy of the council tax bill for 2013/14, leaving it with £700,000 more to find in savings.
Staffordshire Police, which receives 13 per cent of the council tax bill, expected a two per cent rise.
Resident Margaret McDonald, aged 69, of Tunstall, said: "All we hear about is cuts from the Government and cuts from the council. People are sick and tired of it.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they put the tax up again and I wouldn't be surprised if people refuse to pay it."
Stoke-on-Trent City Council said the two per cent cap on tax increases has 'limited its options' but indicated it is waiting to learn more about its financial position before deciding on next year's bill.
Councillor Dave Conway, leader of the opposition City Independents, said his group will oppose an increase.
He added: "I don't want to hear anything about another council tax increase.
"The well has run dry. Times are hard enough for people in the city and they don't have any more money to give."