The leader of West Norfolk Council has vowed to keep council tax low, amid opposition warnings that a sharp increase may be needed to balance the borough’s books.
But Nick Daubney refused to rule out a rise when he was questioned on the issue during the authority’s meeting on Thursday evening.
He said: “It is a manifesto commitment that council tax will not increase above inflation and that is a commitment we intend to keep.”
However, when Labour leader John Collop asked whether he could say the tax would not rise in the forthcoming financial year, he said: “I’ll present my budget at the appropriate time.”
The debate over the shape of the council’s future finances is set to intensify over the coming months as budgets are set and the impact of further cuts in central government funding becomes apparent.
Norfolk County Council is currently consulting voters on whether it should raise its portion of the council tax by just under two per cent, the maximum level allowed without calling a referendum.
And Mr Daubney acknowledged: “We are, across all facets of public service, having to deliver for much less money.
“This has been a necessary situation. It happens to be a strategy I agree with.
“This council has, for many, many years, delivered a balanced budget.
“We know that is increasingly a challenge and we know the size of problem we have. We shall design our budgets to fit that criteria.”
But Mr Collop suggested he was presenting an overly optimistic view of the council’s financial situation.
He said: “I don’t think everyone shares the leader’s view the council’s finances are as rosy as he believes they are.
“We know the government is cutting back money for local councils. We have made cuts and kept within what we need to keep within but it seems it’s going to be very very difficult to keep within that.
“We have kept council tax historically low for a long time. We may have to put it up by a substantial amount if we want to keep our budgets.”
But Mr Daubney insisted he was proud of his administration’s record on the issue.
He said: “The reason I approach the future with confidence is because of the position we’ve put ourselves in.
“We were two or three years ahead of many councils, which put us in a very strong position. I don’t underestimate the size of the challenge ahead.”