RESIDENTS sat in the Vale Council chamber’s public gallery bleated as the authority’s Labour-led coalition approved a 4.5 per cent council tax hike last week.
Members of the public made sheep noises after Labour councillors, including cabinet members, raised their hands to back the proposal which included making £7.39m in savings and taking £2.5m from general reserves.
The Vale Council’s 6000 employees also face the prospect of job losses with positions, not shed through natural wastage and the deletion of vacant posts, going as a result of redundancies.
The council tax increase for a Band D home owner will be £44.28 for the forthcoming year.
The Vale Council raised the level to 4.8 per cent last year – making it the second highest rise in Wales.
A Plaid motion, backed by other opposition members, to set the rise at three per cent was rejected.
Vale Council leader, Cllr Neil Moore told the meeting on March 5 that the increase would still protect services, and said other local authorities were raising council tax more and blamed the Westminster Government.
Cllr Moore said: “I think it's a fair and reasonable budget. We are one of the lowest funded authorities in Wales. This has been a particularly hard budget to put together. We are looking at everything as much as we can. We have a long term strategy."
Llantwit First Independent councillor, Gwyn John backed the rise saying cuts were not the answer.
Cllr John said: “Nobody likes budget increases, but we are one of the lowest paying councils in Wales on community tax. If you wan’t to cut peoples’ services then fine, but I don’t. We have got 14 per cent of the millionaires in Wales living in Cowbridge.”
But Sully independent councillor, Kevin Mahoney told councillors they should be fighting the Welsh Government in trying to get fairer funding for the Vale.
Cllr Mahoney said: “We should be ashamed of ourselves. We are supposed to be fighting for the people of this county. How can we boast about being the most efficient council? The sheer and utter hypocrisy is too much to take.”
Tory opposition leader, Cllr John Thomas, speaking following the meeting, said: “The Conservative group opposed Labour’s hike in council tax. Neil Moore and his Labour colleagues clearly think that Vale residents have bottomless pockets.
“This huge rise will hit hard-up families hardest, with the average family needing to find around £50 extra this year. Sadly this is yet another example of the rising cost of Labour.”
Also speaking after the meeting, Plaid councillor Ian Johnson, who put forward the 3 percent proposal, said: “In the last two years, during a cost of living crisis, the Labour led Vale of Glamorgan has increased council tax by 9.5 percent.
“Plaid Cymru want to protect public services and jobs while being fair on council taxpayers in the Vale. That’s why we recommended a 3 percent rise that would have been one of the lowest council tax rises in Wales.
“Unfortunately, Labour wouldn’t listen to our reasoned amendment, while the Conservatives called for cuts in non-statutory services, which can include libraries, leisure and bus services.”
He also said the group was concerned information given to councillors about the level of reserves was not as accurate as it should be when making decisions.”
He said: “It was recently uncovered that there was £15m more in council reserves at the end of March 2013 than anticipated only weeks earlier in February 2013 when the last Budget was set. There was £55m rather than the £40m that we thought was there.
“That is a substantial difference in our reserves and puts the council’s finances in a different light, even as we face large cuts. We can’t be any more certain about the real position at the end of this month.
“Having more accurate information means that councillors can make better informed decisions about how to use our finances – and, hopefully, better decisions as well.”