SOUTH Lakeland District Council has frozen its slice of the council tax for the fourth time in as many years – and pledges to be the first local authority to do so for a ‘record’ fifth year.

The Liberal Democrat-controlled authority set its budget on Tuesday night with a firm eye on  addressing an expected £3.2million deficit due in 2017/18 as a result of government grant reductions.

An alternative Tory budget proposing a one per cent reduction in the council tax for South Lakeland residents was defeated by the majority-holding Lib Dems with support from Labour members.

Proposing the budget, Lib Dem finance portfolio holder Coun David Evans said the nought per cent increase was a ‘truly unprecedented feat’ and SLDC was on course to become the first council to ‘ever’ freeze council tax for the full term of a Parliament.

“This Liberal Democrat administration has become very adept at squeezing the last ounce of value from monies we spend,” he said.

“Difficult decisions have been made and year on year to enable us to continue to provide the services our communities rely on.”

But Conservative opposition leader David Williams said a council tax cut would also be historic – being the first in 20 years.

“You have £1.4million in reserves this year – why don’t we give some back to our ratepayers?” he asked.

“There’s definitely money in the pot to cut the council tax for every South Lakeland resident.”

The council’s £12.8million budget for 2014-15 will include £6.4 million of capital spending plans including £1.7 million set aside for new recycling vehicles.

Around £1million will be ring-fenced to provide certain businesses with special rate relief, and there are plans to convert empty properties above shops into affordable flats.

It will also roll out plastic and cardboard recycling, introduce free wifi throughout Kendal, smarten up town centres and plans £250k of improvements for public facilities at Waterhead.

An extra £106,000 will be spent on helping staff at SLDC without a pension start one – following the introduction of auto-enrollment.

It has also not ruled out sharing a chief executive with another council in future years.

The authority aims to keep a general reserve of £7.8million and a working balance through the financial year of around £1.5million.

Over the course of the financial year, the council will raise around £9million in fees and charges for services – before costs have been deducted – including £4.1million from car parking charges.

Other increases include:
n A six and four per cent increase in burials and the scattering of ashes across eight council-run graveyards
n Eight per cent increases for encroachment on Windermere
n Hiring Market Place in Kendal for events will go up 259 per cent to £250 a day
n Hiring football pitches at The Glebe, Bowness, is going up for junior and adults teams
n Using council-owned land will rise by as much 355 per cent
n Daytime events will cost organisers £1,000 and week-long celebrations £5,000.
n The cost of putting on fairs or events will also rise 127 per cent

Car parking charges in council-run car parks will remain frozen but some annual parking permits are going up.

The council also plans to withdraw £40,000 – equivalent to £5,000 per parish in annual grants to its Local Area Partnerships (LAPs) – from parish-based committees in Kendal, the central Lakes, Grange and Cartmel, High Furness, Low Furness and Ulverston, Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale, South Westmorland and the Upper Kent.