Modest rises are planned despite some council income sources drying up
Council tax bills in England could rise by an average of 1.6% next year - the lowest increase for more than a decade, according to a survey.
The Local Government Chronicle magazine asked councils what they were planning, although budgets have yet to be set.
Many said they would be freezing or reducing their bills in 2010-11.
With an average rise of nearly half this year's increase - adding about £22 to a typical Band D bill - one expert called it "a race to the bottom".
In March this year England's Band D council tax rose by an average of 3%, which was the lowest increase in 15 years.
Local Government Chronicle (LGC) deputy editor David Blackman said: "Westminster's public spending phoney war seems to have spread to local government judging by this year's council tax survey.
"Cash-strapped council taxpayers may be grateful that town halls are feeling their pain, but these increases have more to do with politics than economics."
Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, told LGC: "We are in a race to the bottom."
"I would expect the national average to be between 1% and 2% and, because there are local elections, I would not be surprised if the average in London was below zero," he added.
Of the 81 councils in England that responded to the survey, 34 said they were preparing to freeze or cut their rates.
Many of those were London boroughs, which face all-out elections next May, although freezes were also planned in large metropolitan authorities like Manchester City Council and district councils such as Cherwell in Oxfordshire.
Last month the mayor of London Boris Johnson said he would freeze the Greater London Authority's (GLA) share of the council tax bill for a second year.
Income drying up
BBC local government correspondent John Andrew said the average rise figure showed the political pressure local authorities were under not to inflict big rises on households, even though they had also been squeezed by the recession.
"What's good news for council taxpayers may be bad for services especially if ministers see it as proof that councils can manage with less central support," he said.
LGC reported that the figures could be explained by factors like the looming general election, inflation forecasts remaining low for the foreseeable future, and the recession hitting residents.
Modest rises are planned despite significant income sources such as interest on reserves and fees and charges drying up.