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Council Tax freeze for Watford Borough Council
Watford politicians have voted to freeze its share of the Council Tax but rejected calls to provide financial support struggling businesses over the coming year.
At a Watford Borough Council full meeting on Wednesday, Steve Rackett, leader of the Green group, urged elected mayor Dorothy Thornhill to set aside £100,000 for rate relief for small and medium businesses.
He said retail was a large part of Watford’s economy and using the council’s reserves to help struggling businesses could be more helpful to residents than cutting tax.
Councillor Rackett added cutting Council Tax by one per cent would give residents on an average tax band around 2p a week, whereas rate relief could save jobs.
Mayor Thornhill said the idea would not work as there were so many businesses in the town, £100,000 would make hardly any difference. She argued initiatives such as the renovation of Charter Place would bring more businesses to the town.
She added: "How would we decide which businesses get help?"
At the meeting Mayor Thornhill announced the council would be freezing its 16 per cent share of the Council Tax. Hertfordshire Constabulary, which gets 10 per cent of the county’s tax pound has also frozen its share.
Hertfordshire County Council, which gets the majority - 74 per cent - is yet to make a final decision on its share.
Mayor Thornhill said the council was still facing reductions in the money it gets from Government and would have to rely on its reserves to balance the budget until 2016.
However she ruled out using council reserves to lower Watford’s Council Tax.
She said: "It might be said we should use more of these reserves to further reduce council tax. But in the current circumstances, with capping clearly here to stay whichever government is in power, indeed with pressure for a year on year freeze, it would be irresponsible to reduce our ability to raise money and provide services in the future.
"It would be harder to achieve a balanced budget, with reserves running out more quickly and sooner or later it would mean cuts in services."
Nigel Bell, the leader of the opposition Labour group, attacked the mayor’s proposals as a "do-nothing budget" and said the council should look at using its reserves to further help residents in the town.
He also criticised the plans to build a bridge across the pond in the town centre saying the money should have been used to help start up businesses in the town.
He said: "It is a do nothing budget and as residents look across the bridge across the pond they must think that not only is that a metaphor for the mayor and her administration - a bridge too far and a bridge to nowhere - but think of the small start up businesses that could have been kick-started by some of that £4.5million along St Albans Road."