Approving the council's budget for the year, Cabinet members at Conservative-run Wealden District Council heard how the authority's finances were "sound" and that this contrasted markedly with some neighbouring council's which were largely Lib-Dem led.
For example, in neighbouring Eastbourne Borough the Lib-Dems are set to exceed £200 million of borrowing. Precarious finances here have forced asset sales, amid ill-judged property speculation, and required £12.8 million in emergency facilities to cover deficits.
Also in East Sussex, at Rother District, the Lib-Dem/Independent coalition has frittered away reserves inherited from the Conservatives; borrowing now set to exceed £92 million amid risky housing and property ventures.
Conservative Council leader at Wealden, Bob Standley said: “We have a reputation for good sense financial management and I have to say when you look at some of our neighbouring councils we are in a much stronger position.
“It doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by hard work. Nothing happens by accident. The fact some of our neighbours are getting into a pickle is because they’ve actually not made some of the hard decisions we have had to make over the years.”
He added: “We know the cost of living is going up and we want to keep council tax increases as low as possible.
“But we also need to make sure that we deliver to our residents, because a lot of our residents are the vulnerable we need to protect.”
The new budget approves a rise in council tax of just 9.6p a week, and comes after Wealden froze its council tax last year, which the authority said was intended to soften the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The increase was approved – following a six week public consultation – by the council’s Cabinet committee on Wednesday 9 February and is expected to be ratified at a meeting of the Full Council on Wednesday 23 February.
It is the first time council tax bills in Wealden have risen for two years following a freeze in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Council leader Bob Standley said, “Nobody wants council tax to rise but these minimal increases are reasonable amounts to ensure we deliver good services to our residents.
“The main reason for the increases is that there are financial challenges ahead so we have to be reasonably prudent. We are investing in projects which will contribute to the council’s income and help keep future council tax increases as low as possible.”
Wealden council’s share of the council tax bill is 10% and the money helps pay for refuse and recycling collections, planning, street cleaning, environmental protection and free car parking.
The remaining 90% of council tax bills is set by and distributed among East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police and East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service as well as local parish or town councils.