City of Lincoln Council’s leader said there are “no quick or easy fixes” to the authority’s financial woes as councillors approved a 1.9% rise in council tax on Tuesday evening.
The meeting of the full council voted in favour of the increase, which will see Band D properties pay an extra £5.31 a year – a total precept share of £285.39 as part of the budget for 2021-22.
Council bosses predict a budget gap of £1.75 million by 2023/24 due to reduced central government funding.
They said that although the budget looked to “rebuild the foundations” there were “still financial challenges ahead”.
Labour leader Councillor Ric Metcalfe said the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions had “led to significant additional costs and a dramatic drop in many traditional sources of income”.
Due to the pandemic’s impact on government funded reliefs, empty properties and business closures, the authority estimates it will only retain £5.1 million of the £42 million of business rates generated in the city.
“For an authority like ours that historically has been extremely well managed financially, we have had to work hard to be able to stabilise our position,” said councillor Metcalfe.
“There are no quick or easy fixes, we will not be able to do all of the things that people have come to expect the council to provide as a matter of course,” he said.
“Our financial problems did not begin with COVID-19, nor will they end with it,” he added.
“We did an outstanding job in very difficult circumstances and it was a reminder of how important this council, and others like it are to their local communities.”
He said council leaders had “ambitious” plans for the future, including their Vision 2025 programme, the Western Growth Corridor and tackling climate change.
Council housing rent will increase by an average of 1%, while council garage rents will increase by 3%.
As part of the plans, allotment charges will also see most tenants pay between £58.70-£78.30 per year from 2022, an increase of between 38p and 51p per week.
Opposition leader Conservative Councillor Thomas Dyer called for the council to consider a more “diversified investment plan” with a variety of local revenue streams, noting a decline in car parking income during the pandemic.
He also called for further conversations around local government reorganisation.
He said his party “reluctantly” supported the council tax rise, but said it should only be done as a last resort.
Councillor Dyer warned the council to “proceed with caution”, however, over potential plans to close public toilets.
“We must ensure that our high street is accessible and support businesses and residents alike,” he said.
Councillor Dyer called for more to be done over housing, electric vehicles and public transport.
Opposition amendments including: increased enforcement fines for litter and dog fouling; car parking charge freezes; one hour free parking at Lincoln Central; freezing office rents and staff pay above £30,000; establishing a City of Lincoln Big Clean; increasing discounts for Christmas Market stalls to be plastic free and a new play park in the Brant Road area were all rejected.