Households in East Hampshire will see a maximum rise in the district council element of their tax bills from April, with leaders blaming inflation and a ‘dire’ national situation.

In a heated meeting, councillors approved the £5 increase in the council tax Band D households pay to East Hampshire District Council (EHDC). 

Although the budget was approved on February 29 with 21 councillors voting in favour, it was called “madness” and “disappointing” that 15 councillors, some of whom had previously agreed with the budget, abstained from voting. 

The opposition said they did agree with most of the plans but abstained because they wanted more on the green agenda, despite the budget having been through the process and voted on.

The £5 annual increase for a Band D home, the maximum allowed without a referendum, will see households pay £146.92 to the district council from April, an increase of 3.5 per cent

The council also collects council tax for Hampshire County Council, police and crime commissioner, fire and rescue authority and town and parish councils.

The proportion of a Band D household’s total council tax bill taken by EDHC will fall to 6.92 per cent from seven per cent in 2023/24, councillors said.

Delivering the budget, Councillor Charles Louissson (Con, Hawkley, Ropley) told the full council meeting at The Festival Hall in Petersfield that neither local government nor EHDC had been in a tougher financial position. He said the situation around the country is “dire” and local government budgets were a “soft touch for government cuts”, cost of living increases and the impact of the global conflicts.

Cllr Louisson said the budget adopted a cautious approach and there is a spending power of £31 million, receiving £2.6 million in funding from the government for 2024/25.

For 2024/25, the council is facing a £2.1m increase in costs. Councillors heard that includes £737,000 for waste collection and ground maintenance, £685,000 for pay inflation (inc councillors), £426,000 for the investment property portfolio, £150,000 for council tax support and £122,000 for councillors’ allowance.

The council, which gets income from taxation and government grants to provide services like refuse and recycling collection and grass cutting, said there are £2.6 million of savings and additional income against a backdrop of service inflation of 6.4 per cent.

Also going up are non-statutory services like garden waste and car parking to create income to support services. Councillor Louisson said it would be unfair to charge someone for garden waste collection when living in a flat without a garden.

The meeting also heard capital activities for the coming year include building an in-district waste depot, enhancing leisure facilities and some housing initiatives.

The budget was passed 21 votes for with 15 abstentions from the Liberal Democrats and Green Party but it was not made completely clear in the meeting why.

Leader of the opposition, Councillor Elaine Woodard (Lib Dem, Horndean, Murray), said: “There are many items we do support as Liberal Democrats, the welfare fund, community grants and increased council tax support for working people to name some.”

She said: “[I am] disappointed that more funding wasn’t found for climate mitigation measures.“

She was concerned and unsure if the budget could meet the challenges of the future.

Leader, Councillor Richard Millard (Con, Headley) said the next two to three years are going to be challenging but the budget was good.

After the disagreement and heated debate, Cllr Millard asked Cllr Woodard to set a date when they could get together and work on the budget for next year. But she hit back and said she wouldn’t because she wouldn’t be “bullied” into setting a date, a comment she later retracted and apologised for.

Cllr Charlene Maines (Con, Rowlands Castle) said to Cllr Woodard that her words were unacceptable and members had to be careful how they spoke to each other and hoped she would find a way to set a date with the conservative leader to work together.

After the meeting, Councillor Louisson said he felt disappointed about the abstentions. He said: “We put this budget together as a strong budget to support our residents. We are maintaining our services, we are keeping council tax to a reasonable level and I think between elections we do this for our residents.

“The budget is a year-round activity, six months to set it and six months to police it.”

After the meeting, Councillor Millard said the abstention was “madness” and effective “whipping”, “petty politics” from the Liberal Democrats. As the overview and scrutiny committee is chaired “very effectively” by Councillor David Podger – a Liberal Democrat – who passed the budget before it came to full council and now was being forced to abstain.