At the moment second home owners get a discount of 50% on their council tax for that property. New government legislation gives billing authorities (district and borough councils) the power to reduce this discount to as low as 10% with effect from April 2004.
Under the current way council tax is distributed, about £1.8m of this would come to the county council. This would reduce the increase in the county council's tax increase by just under 1%.
David Rowe, the county council's portfolio holder for strategic and financial planning, said: 'We will use the money to keep down the county council's council tax increase. We are still in discussion with other councils about their plans for reducing the discount on second homes but we are keen to see the full reduction introduced.
'This would mean we and other councils can keep any increase in council tax as low as possible as we are committed to doing everything we can to try and ensure any increase is reasonable for tax-payers whilst still delivering our services to a high standard.'
The county council is also in discussion with district and borough councils about the possibility of a county-wide approach to reducing the discount for long-term empty properties, from 50% possibly to zero.
The issues are quite different from the discount for second homes as it is likely that any additional income would fall to local councils only in 2004/05 but in subsequent years would pass through to central gover nment funds.
These discussions are in their early stages but we expect to agree an approach before Christmas.