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South Hams raises council tax by 9p a week

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IN order to protect front line services and those on low pay South Hams District Council has decided reluctantly to raise its council tax for an average band D home by 9p a week.

The council, faced with balancing the budget and plugging the £479,000 funding 'black hole' following a much reduced Government grant this year, decided today to raise their council tax by 3.5%.

This amounts to a £4.83 increase on an average Band D property over a year - just 9p per week.

South Hams is one of the few councils being allowed to do this by the Government simply because of its past successes in keeping its council tax so low. Councils in the same position are also being allowed to raise their council tax by up to £5 a year.

South Hams Council Leader John Tucker said: "In the next two or three years it is going to be much more difficult to balance our budget. We will need efficiency savings of around £720,000 for 2014-15. But at the moment our surveys show our council tax payers wish for us to maintain front line services and protect the low paid.

"We are also putting money back into reserves to provide affordable housing, facilities for the disabled, and for vital capital projects like keeping the Dartmouth Lower Ferry running which last January alone carried 10,025 foot passengers and 18,689 vehicles."

The council are taking steps to protect the most vulnerable in the area.

Second homes discount has been removed to support those at financial risk in the area through the Council Tax Support Scheme. South Hams Citizens Advice Bureau will get £20,000 above their service level agreement to bring the charity's total grant to £62,000 this year.

CAB works closely with the council's housing and benefits team to help provide independent debt and benefits advice to residents.

Car parking charges, in council owned car parks, have been frozen for the third year running - helping residents and businesses alike.

Already the council has agreed plans for four months seasonal closure of underused toilets from October 2014 in order to save £80,000 for 2014-15. The council runs 48 - the most of any Devon authority.

With agreement of the town or parish councils the toilets may be closed earlier - or taken over and kept open by the parish or town if they wish. Yearly running costs vary from £1,000 to £50,000.

The council has demonstrated shrewd budgeting in the past - and as an early pioneer of sharing services from 2007 with West Devon Borough the Council has saved £2.15m - at a continuing rate of £700,000 a year.

Councillor Tucker added: "We are mindful of those vulnerable people and those on low pay who will be affected by our council tax increase, but anyone struggling to pay their council tax can call the council and we will help them as much as we can."