GRAVESHAM Council has chosen to raise council tax by 1.9 per cent this financial year.

This just avoids the 2 per cent threshold which would have triggered a referendum on whether to increase the rate.

Council leader Cllr John Burden claimed the extra 6p per week for Band D property owners was reasonable in order to maintain services in the borough.

Speaking at a full council meeting on February 26, he said: "It is about doing what is right for the people of Gravesham.

"We are managing how we raise money and managing our future as an administration."

The opposition Conservative group tabled five amendments to the budget, including proposals to use funds earmarked for the Communities And Neighbourhoods (CAN) grant programme to freeze council tax and offer free Saturday parking in Gravesend.

The plans would have taken £150,000 from CAN: a £500,000 scheme over three years providing grants of up to £10,000 for community projects and local groups.

But both amendments were voted down by a margin of 24 to 17 while other proposals to reintroduce the £50,000 Youth Development Capital Budget, fund two extra PCSOs for Gravesham and reduce planned rises in council rents were also defeated.

Tory Cllr Bryan Sweetland said: "Instead of helping local businesses and employers in Gravesend by bringing back free Saturday parking, the council said there was not a problem with shoppers paying the increased parking charges which the Labour council has almost doubled since taking over.

"The most surprising aspect of the budget was the increases in council tax – hitting the very people who can least afford to pay."

Dartford freeze

By contrast, Dartford Council has frozen council tax for the third year in a row.

The rate for a Band D property will remain at £162.90 per month as the council’s budget for 2013/2014 was unveiled at a full council meeting on February 25.

Dartford accepted a government handout equivalent to a 1 per cent rise in council tax in return for freezing the rates for another year.

Dartford Council leader, Councillor Jeremy Kite, said it would be "churlish" for the authority not to accept the funding.

He added: "Tony Blair once listed his priorities as ‘education, education, education’.

"We could list ours as ‘the residents, the residents, the residents’.

"This budget once again sees our services maintained and in many cases improved."

All councillors agreed to waive a prospective 1.5 per cent increase in members’ allowances for 2013/2014.

Cllr Kite also announced plans to build a new performing arts centre in central park in time for the 2014 summer season, and to revamp Dartford Cricket Club’s pavilion at Hesketh Park.