DUDLEY borough residents would have to cough up £350,000 if politicians order a referendum on a council tax hike.

The authority is currently holding a major consultation on financial options for the council which include putting the tax up by as much as 4.6 per cent, or £1 per week, for an average property.

Government regulations require a referendum on a council tax rise of more than two per cent, if the council's ruling Labour group decides on a bigger increase they will need voters' permission.

Dudley cabinet member for finance, Cllr Pete Lowe, said: "The council has already cut services by £30 million in the last two years.

"On top of this, if we don’t increase council tax next April, we need to make a further £29 million of savings over the next three years."

The authority sets aside £350,000 each year for scheduled elections, which take place every three out of four years.

In a year without planned elections, like 2013, the money is ploughed back into the council's coffers.

The authority's opposition leader, Conservative Cllr Les Jones, said: "They would be asking people to spend £350,000 to give permission to charge more council tax, a no vote would make that a complete cost. It would be grossly irresponsible."

Cllr Jones believes the cost could be even higher because a referendum would require a publicity campaign prior to a vote and the council would also lose out on more than £1m from central government to subsidise a council tax freeze.

John Polychronakis, chief executive and returning officer at Dudley Council, said: "Approximately £350,000 is included in the budget to cover the cost of an election and all related work.

"This year there are no local elections but this funding was retained in the budget to cover the cost of a referendum if a decision was taken to go to referendum in relation to the council tax."

The finance consultation, which Dudley Council says will cost around £6,000, is set to run until the end of February and has already received around 5,500 responses.

Cllr Lowe argues Dudley's council tax bills are £14 per month less than the national average, he added a two per cent rise would still mean cuts of £26m over the next three years.