Keighley residents face a massive inflation-busting rise in town council charges to prop up its loss-making civic centre.
Councillors have partly blamed its unprecedented 72.6 per cent precept hike on the centrepiece building being £74,000 in the red, less than a year after the former police station was launched in its new guise.
Keighley Town Council will tonight vote on a recommendation to increase its annual charge on Band B properties – the rating for most local homes – from £18.90 to £32.62 for the 2013/14 financial year.
Councillors argue the increase is only equivalent to an extra 26 pence per week per household, and claim it has also been forced on them by Government policy.
But the proposal has been condemned by Keighley MP Kris Hopkins, who attacked the move as “foolhardy and unjustified”.
“I’m afraid the town council’s misguided attempt to blame the Government for its own ineptitude can be interpreted as nothing other than an act of gross desperation,” he added.
Keighley mayor, Coun George Metcalf, and town council finance committee chairman, Coun John Phillip, blamed the deficit at the civic centre – launched last spring – on the national economy.
And they warned debts could grow for the Grade II listed building, which houses council offices, a Police Museum, cafe, shop and debt management advice centre.
Coun Metcalf said: “It was hoped the civic centre would break even as soon as possible. Any new business takes two to three years to become established and, due to the economic downturn, this is proving a problem.”
He emphasised Keighley had not raised its precept for several years, but acknowledged the move has come in anticipation of the Government potentially capping the amount by which town and parish councils can increase future charges.
Coun Phillip said Government restructuring had slashed the local authority’s finances by taking away its income from council tax benefit relief.
He added: “We’ve lost 26 per cent of our income. That is being plugged with a £107,000 grant, but there’s no guarantee we’ll get the grant next year.”
But Mr Hopkins said: “I’ve received a number of representations from Keighley residents who are understandably concerned about the financial direction the town council is taking.
“I’ve written to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles outlining these concerns, and I’m due to meet him to discuss them.”
The town council precept will be included in the overall council tax bill, together with sums levied by Bradford Council, West Yorkshire Police and West Yorkshire Fire Authority.
Bradford Council and the fire authority have still to set their figures, but West Yorkshire Police will increase its charge by 3.8 per cent. This equates to a penny a day for the two-thirds of homes in West Yorkshire that fall into bands A and B.
l Haworth, Cross Roads and Stanbury Parish Council has this week agreed a ‘record’ precept rise of 51.5 per cent.
Speaking at the council’s latest full meeting, chairman Coun John Huxley said: “We’ve never put our precept up by this amount before.”
Coun Barry Thorne said he and his colleagues might as well “pack up and go home” if they were not willing to support the increase.