Spending cutback to beat rates hike
BIG spending cuts are on the cards as Ashford council bids to cope with the economic downturn.
Councillors say they are determined that ratepayers will not be hit by a massive rise in council tax to cover a huge budget shortfall caused by the deepening financial crisis.
The council’s executive last Thursday agreed measures for the next two years designed to face the financial challenges.
Portfolio holder for resource management Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con) said: “Ashford’s council tax is the lowest in Kent.
“While other councils will be passing on costs we have faced up to the fact that income will be lost and decided not to pass the burden on to taxpayers and to keep below the normal five per cent increase.”
He said that in the challenging times the council had to make hard choices if it was to continue to deliver core services effectively and protect the interests of all residents.
He added: “Our key aim in considering these proposals has been to protect frontline services so far as practicable, but there will inevitably be an impact on the council’s ability to provide services at the quality we would ideally like.”
A letter has been sent to Hazel Blears MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to address the level of grants awarded to the council.
seeking another £500,000 support a year to deal with the exceptional pressures as a result of Ashford’s designation as a key Government Growth Area.
Members were given an indepth briefing by chief executive David Hill on senior management team proposals for cutbacks to meet a £3.2 million shortfall over the next two years, including taking £100,000 from reserves.
He said: “It is a challenge as it is difficult to predict inflation and interest rates.
“We have had to cut out some growth items and aspirational increases to improve services like enhanced recycling that has been deferred for two years.
“But it all adds up to a clear plan of action and I am confident it can be achieved.”
It includes proposals ranging from increased car park charges to the possible closing of rural public conveniences.
All will be debated in depth over the next couple of months before a final decision is taken.
Cllr Rita Haws (Lib Dem), said: “This will mean a cut in services and we have got to be honest with the public that in some areas they will not be able to have the services they previously expected.”
Cllr John Holland (Ind) was worried about possible public toilet closures and said he was wary that publicans would agree to provide free services.