Scottish Borders Council has voted to increase council tax by an extra 1%, adding to a previous 3% increase agreed in December.
At a meeting of the council on today (Thursday, February 28), councillors agreed to the rise in a narrow vote between the Tory/Independent-led administration and SNP/Liberal Democrats/Independent opposition councillors.
Ultimately, the administration won the vote 17-16, meaning that Borders residents face a 4% council tax in April.
Speaking in support of the extra council tax rise, council leader Shona Haslam, who represents Tweeddale East, said: “This was not an easy decision and we had many heated debates about this.
“Since agreeing to raise council tax by 3% in December we have received a budget settlement from the Scottish Government that is far worse than we expected.
“A workplace parking levy and tourist tax are not suitable nor desirable in the Borders. We’ve been left with no choice but to raise council tax by 4%.
“This was difficult for me, a Conservative, to stand up here and ask for us to raise council tax. It does not sit well with me or my Conservative colleagues in the room, but due to constant pressure from the Scottish Government we have to do this.
“The blame for this rests at the door of the SNP’s finance secretary Derek Mackay, nowhere else.”
The extra rise in council tax will raise £600,000 a year for Scottish Borders Council, which will be used to leverage a loan of £20m, which will be used to bring the construction of a new high school in Hawick forward, with the intention that a new school will be opened in Hawick within the next five years.
Scottish Borders Council has indicated that it must save £29.5m over the next five years, but despite this there are numerous areas of additional spending in the 2019/20 budget.
This includes spending £16m over 10 years to gives every P6 to S6 pupil an Apple iPad; funding a second community action team, comprised of seven police officers; and spending an additional £3m on extra care housing in Hawick, Kelso, Eyemouth and Peebles.
Stuart Bell, leader of the opposition, spoke out against rising the council tax further: “The administration’s 4% council tax rise in not thought through, it is not justified, it is not necessary and it is not fair.
“Council tax was set at the December meeting and I told the council then that it was premature, because the administration could neither tell the Borders public what they’d get for increased taxation, nor had we a definitive financial settlement from the Scottish Government.
“The administration must stop, yet again, trying to blame their woes on the Scottish Government.
“It’s not fair on businesses and families who were planning for the 3%, it’s not fair on those facing economic uncertainty, who might lose their income through the Brexit the Tory party is pulling down on this country; because council tax is on property and not on income.”
Summing up her argument, councillor Haslam added: “This is not just about proposing a balanced budget, it’s about proposing a budget that will invest in the our communities.”