RESIDENTS in Harpenden face a council tax increase of up to 20 per cent, despite reservations from some councillors who feel the hike is excessive.

At a meeting on Monday, February 11, the town council accepted a rise of 18.7 per cent, taking the cost of an average band D property from £43.07 in 2001/2002 to £53.28 for 2002/2003.

Councillor John Coad who voted against the hike, said it was an unjustifiable increase which was far too high for the town.

The council claimed the increase was needed to fund the additional cost of the groundwork contract which covers day-to-day maintenance and the cost of complying with the Best Value programme.

Councillor Paul Foster, said: "It is unfortunate it is at the level being set, but the increases are not necessarily in our control."

Following a tendering process for the ongoing groundwork contract, the council has had to put aside up to £73,000 with another £15,000 set by in reserve.

The Best Value programme was attacked by a number of councillors who claim it is costing the council up to £60,000 to implement.

Mr Foster said: "Best Value should not be for town council's. It costs us far too much money and the people who end up paying for it are the residents."

The Government has indicated it will give £30,000 towards the cost of Best Value, but has said this should not be included in this budget.

The council also announced plans to spend this year's budget funding a number of local projects, including the development of a skate park, improvements to the Forum, development of a web site and the provision for extra CCTV cameras in the town. It also agreed to re-paint all lampposts in the town black, with a gold band.

Mr Foster said: "In terms of benefit to the public I believe we get more value out of our town council budget than at district level."