The council chambers were buzzing on Friday as councillors discussed the thorny issues of adult and child care services, rising living costs, river pollution, road conditions, and the local athletics track. With heavy hearts, the council reluctantly approved a 4.99 per cent hike in council tax, recognising that difficult decisions must be made to maintain crucial services.
Amidst the debates, several key decisions were made. To ease the burden on struggling households, a 100 per cent council tax discount was maintained, while an additional £1.7 million was allocated to support people in financial difficulties. In a bid to ease the pressure on the local housing market, councillors also voted to allow double council tax charges for second homes and vacant properties.
However, opposition groups failed to provide any alternative budget proposals or suggestions for improving the £380 million budget for 2023-24. Their lack of understanding of the council's finances was evident, with members making several misguided comments during the lengthy four-hour debate.
While the opposition squabbled over how a small portion of additional funding through the Rural Services Grant should be used, pollution from agriculture and water companies dumping sewage continued to devastate the River Wye. With the local building industry at a standstill for over three years due to the crisis, the county is losing £12 million every month the ban on development continues.
Independents and Greens pushed to use the funding windfall to tackle the pollution crisis and lift the moratorium on development in the River Lugg catchment. This move, they argued, would prevent the ban from extending to cover the entire Wye catchment, which represents over 90 per cent of the county's area.
Meanwhile, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Bob Matthews' breakaway Indies clamoured to spend the money on fixing potholes in rural roads. John Harrington, cabinet member for Transport, acknowledged that the funds might be sufficient to resurface a couple of rural roads. He advised Conservatives to lobby their local MPs and government in Westminster for proper funding to maintain the entire road network.