A freeze on council tax has been agreed by Craven district councillors.

The council had been expected to increase council tax by just under two per cent after its leader Chris Knowles-Fitton announced it was “highly likely” at a joint budget meeting in January.

But at Monday’s full council meeting, Coun Knowles-Fitton (Cons) changed his mind and acknowledged that although an increase would be the sensible thing to do, it would hit residents.

“An increase in the council tax will benefit this council, but make things slightly harder for the ratepayers,” he said.

The decision to freeze council tax for the third year running and to accept the government’s one-off grant of £34,000 was, however, criticised by Liberal Democrat leader Coun Paul English, who warned of trouble ahead.

Coun English accused the leading group of accepting the government’s “filthy lucre” and not being brave enough to do the best thing for Craven.

“You say you don’t want to add to the suffering of Craven residents, but all you are doing is just delaying it, these freeze grants will disappear and Craven District Council will find itself in a hole,” he said.

“If you had put up council tax, I would’ve supported it – this will come back and bite us on the bottom.”

But Independent leader, Coun Philip Barrett, approved of the freeze, adding that he was sure it would be welcomed by hard-pressed residents.

And Coun John Kerwin-Davey (Ind) said he believed most people would favour a freeze on council tax for the coming year and worry about future rises if and when they happened.

“I am sure if we asked our voters if they wanted to put up council tax now or some time in the future, they would say some time in the future.”

Coun Knowles-Fitton said the council would have to continue to make efficiencies and look to increase its revenue and that his group had debated long and hard whether or not to increase council tax.

“The decision to increase council tax is, on one hand, a hard-nosed financial one, and if we were a business in the private sector we would without doubt raise it,” he said.

“But we’re not – we’re a social organisation which must be managed in a business-like fashion. On the other hand, we have a social and moral obligation to make life no harder for our residents than we must.

“It is therefore, the opinion of this administration that however small an increase we might recommend, we are, as the Prime Minister says, all in it together and that means not adding to the suffering if humanly possible.”

The council also approved a net revenue budget of £6.3 million for 2013/14 – a reduction of £139,000 from last year.

Of that, council tax will generate a total of £3.1 million.

The council has seen its government funding reduced by £1.3 million over the last three years and there will be a further £400,000 reduction in 2014/15.

Council tax is divided between Craven District Council, North Yorkshire County Council, North Yorkshire Police Authority, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority and the parish councils. All main authorities have agreed a nil increase.

Excluding any parish precept, the owner of an average band D property will pay £1,476.34 in 2013/14.