ALDERSHOT and Farnborough residents could face a council tax increase of around 15% — but council leaders claim they have got off lightly.

The massive hike in Rushmoor’s council tax precept has been on the cards for months, according to councillors, who blame the increase at the door of the government, pointing at a less than generous annual grant.

Cabinet members met on Tuesday to discuss the council’s budget and were faced with three options for the borough’s tax hike — around 15%, 20% or 25%.

That has combined with reduced income from rents, fees and charges, and rising costs.

In addition, reductions in interest rates have cost the council around £700,000.

Director of resources Peter Gardner said they faced tough financial challenges over the next three years.

He told members: “The choice of tax increase is a difficult job and there is no right answer.

“It requires a careful judgment. The higher now, the lower in the future. But it is difficult to say exactly what future tax will be.”

Cllr Peter Moyle, deputy leader of Rushmoor, again used the meeting to voice his contempt for the government’s performance.

Members are angry that areas such as neighbouring Surrey Heath, which is considered to have higher living costs, will receive extra funding.

Cllr Moyle said: “We need to recognise that had we had a better settlement from the government it would not be so bad.

“They have drawn a line in the sand and said that Surrey Heath got it and Rushmoor didn’t. So we are paying Surrey rates with Rushmoor settlement.”

He was also angry that due to a 5.3% increase in the census population figures, the borough had grant underfunding in the region of £400,000 in previous years.

Cllr David Clifford said that he would opt for the choice that most residents would go for — the smallest of the three increases.

He attacked the government for forcing them to take such a difficult decision.

“I think it is terrible that we are even considering 25%.

“No authority should be put in that position.

“I don’t criticise the officers, I criticise the government.

“The only moral choice that we can make is 15% and then do some savage house keeping.”

In the past two years council tax increases have been held at 2% and 4% respectively.

This has enabled the council to introduce a number of new services such as CCTV, park rangers and improved recycling collection.

Following the meeting, council leader John Marsh gave his hopes for the coming year.

“We will be trying to maintain and develop priority areas, balancing that with the lowest council tax level we believe is achievable.

“This looks like being in the order of 15% — very similar to many local authorities in Hampshire.

“Although large in percentage terms, this equates to an increase of less than 50p a week for a standard band D property.

“We have decided that although we will need to make considerable savings on our expenditure and generate more income, we are determined not to reduce or cut essential services to the public.”

The cabinet will reconsider the position on February 11 before making recommendations to the council on February 27.