Councillors clashed over whether tax should be spent on front-line services or "squirrelled away in bank vaults".

Liberal Democrat and Labour opposition councillors presented Hertfordshire County Council with alternative budgets when it met on Tuesday to decide its share of council tax for the 12 months from April.

The ruling Conservative group's budget prevailed when councillors voted to increase the amount it levies by 3.99 per cent.

This includes a general increase of 1.99 per cent to pay for services such as education, waste disposal, public transport and roads, and a further two per cent ring-fenced for adult social care.

The county council portion of the charge for a Band D property will increase by £54.30 over the year, to £1,414.20.

Executive member for resources and performance Cllr Ralph Sangster told the meeting consultation had showed 60 per cent of residents favoured increasing council tax to maintain local services.

Presenting the budget, he said the focus of the council’s plans were on “investing in Hertfordshire’s future and protecting the most vulnerable”.

Among the investment plans he highlighted was £12 million for the county’s home care workforce and £11 million in a purpose-built nursing home facility in Wormley, as well as further investment in new homes in care-supported facilities.

He pointed to £8 million to support the care needs of children and a further £8 million for local roads.

And, he highlighted £9 million that will be invested in public transport, as well as further funding to support the emerging Sustainable Hertfordshire Strategy.

Cllr Sangster said that over the past decade the council’s Conservative administration had saved local taxpayers almost £2 billion.

And he said, without the actions they had taken, the annual cost of delivering local services would be £351 million higher – suggesting that the county council “would effectively have been bankrupt”.

He told councillors the county council was “financially strong and robust”. But he said there remained a need to retain the council’s ‘reserves’ at their current level.

Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors presented alternative budget proposals – suggesting where money should be spent and saved.

The Liberal Democrats suggested £2 million should be invested in the Savercard scheme – which subsidises travel for full-time students under 19.

They also suggested £1 million should be invested in bus services and on demand services; £1 million in repairs to highways and improvements to footways and cycleways; £1 million in on-street electric vehicle charging points; £1 million for tree planting and £1 million for solar generation, which would also generate some income.

Other plans in their budget proposals included the funding of a review of the child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), pilots for self harm and conduct disorder, school uniform subsidies, grants for set-up of community transport schemes and a £10,000 increase to each councillor’s highways locality budget.

They suggested a number of these proposals could be funded by reducing the council’s spend on corporate communications and security costs for unused council’s buildings and from income from property rental, solar generation, community transport schemes and additional council tax and business rates.

Presenting the proposals, Cllr Paul Zukowskyj said the biggest difference between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative administration was the attitude to council tax – suggesting too much was “squirrelled away for a rainy day”, while cuts were made to services, such as bus services and youth services.

“Residents pay their tax – I pay my tax – and expect it to be spent on services not hoarded in mountains in vaults,” he said.

“This administration seems to forget residents pay their tax for services, not a healthy bank balance.”

Meanwhile alternative Labour proposals included £1m earmarked for ‘quick wins’ on climate change projects, £1m to enable ‘household waste and recycling centres’ to stay open seven days a week and £829,000 for the youth service and youth connexions.

They also suggested funding should be used to discount council tax for care leavers, to reverse cuts to Savercard funding, to increase spending on highways locality budgets and to support CAMHS ‘community targeted team’.

They suggested £100,000 should be earmarked to look at the feasibility of bringing more adult social care services ‘in-house’.

Funding for their proposals, they said, could be secured from a management review at the county council, that would reduce the number of top managers from 120 to 96, from the council’s ‘Invest to Transform’ budget and the communications budget.

Presenting the alternative proposals, Cllr Sharon Taylor said front-line council services were the "Cinderella" of the public sector.

She said 60 per cent of the county council’s budget was needed for children’s services and adult social care – with no recognition from central government of how little this left for other services.

She said councils relied on ‘hand-to-mouth’ funding, with no certainty from one year to the next.

And she said: “In local government we survive in spite of government not because of them – and our residents deserve better than that.”

In addition to the county council element of the council tax, charges will also be levied by the Police and Crime Commissioner, district and borough councils and, in some cases, parish councils too.