COUNCIL tax payers in the New Forest will be hit with an increase of almost £70 from April.

The decision was struck at New Forest District Council’s budget meeting last night (Monday).

It means owners of an average Band D property in the Forest will now be handed a rise of 4.52 per cent, an increase which will take their overall bill to £1,603 for 2017/18.

Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, council leader Cllr Barry Rickman said: “For now, the role of the district council is as it always has been – to carry on delivering good services.

“Next year, we will do this and more for £3.14 per week.

“We intend to get on with the job and deliver what I believe to be good value for money for our community.”

The total bill paid by each household will comprise the sums levied by Hampshire County Council, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority, Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner and the district council.

County councillors say the authority needs more money to pay for adult social care.

Its budget for the coming financial year means the council tax paid by each Band D taxpayer in the Forest will rise by £53.82 to £1,133 – an increase of nearly five per cent.

The amount collected by the district council will rise by £5 to £163.36, or £3.14 a week – an increase of 3.16 per cent.

Hampshire Police and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority have agreed rises of £5 and £1.24 respectively, resulting in increases of 3.12 per cent and 1.98 per cent.

But the total amount paid by each band D householder in the Forest always depends on the sums levied by individual parish councils.

A report to last night’s meeting says parish councils have raised their precepts by an average of £4.22 – an increase of 5.72 per cent.

Cllr Rickman said: “In maintaining our good housekeeping, we will ensure we deliver a balanced budget and live within our means.

“We have overseen the slim-down of our senior management structure which is now completed and working well. We will continue to improve the management of the council’s resources and help make us less reliant on the government grant.

“We have done this by looking at all we do and funding what is important to our community, protecting existing revenue streams and identifying new areas that could increase our annual revenue.”

Cllr David Harrison, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group said it was a “crazy Tory system” that says a referendum is needed if you want to raise the council tax beyond a set limit.

He added: “We all know that referendums are expensive and some of us don't like the outcomes, but the worst thing about this particular Tory straightjacket is that it takes away local accountability for deciding what people are prepared to pay for the services that are delivered locally."

Cllr Harrison criticised the council’s performance towards improving recycling rates, adding: “The actions you have taken are all going in the opposite direction - you are making it more difficult for people to recycle.

“It will mean your rates will go down further and there will be increased instances of fly-tipping all around the area, including in our much-loved National Park.”

Cllr Harrison also hit out at the council’s "pathetic performance" towards providing "any realistic scale of affordable housing in the area", adding there are currently 5,000 people on the waiting list and too many people in bed and breakfast accommodation.

He added: “We [Lib Dem] are a small group at the moment, but thank-goodness we are here, as an effective opposition. It needs someone to highlight your gross inadequacies and misjudgements.”

Cllr Allan Glass thanked those who worked on creating the budget, adding: “We have a lot of people here who have worked very hard to maintain the services that we are giving, at very little increase in cost.”

Cllr Michael Thierry added: “What we have is a robust budget. It meets our corporate aims and corporate objectives.

“This is a budget that supports residents. It maintains services – housing, the weekly bin collection and cost-effectiveness of car parking charges.”

He added: “I believe that this is a budget which meets the aspirations of this particular council.”

Speaking after last night’s meeting, Cllr Rickman said: “We are in a very sensible place in the New Forest long-term because we set about things in the sensible way.

“We have always ran this council as a long-term project for the good of the community we represent. We are not afraid to make changes to benefit those actions.”