HOMEOWNERS in Moray are facing a council tax hike of at least three per cent, while at the same time receiving a warning that the outlook for public services in the future "remains grim".
Cuts of nearly £4 million were also approved by councillors following a tense budget meeting today (Wednesday), with a further £7.6 million being pulled from reserves to balance the books for 2017/2018.
The three per cent council tax increase will affect all properties in bands A to H, with additional levies from the Scottish Government being placed on homes in bands E to H.
For a home in Band A it will mean a council tax increase of £22.70 a year, but that will rise to £595 for a house in Band H. All of this money will be retained by the council.
Councillors unanimously backed the council tax hike – the maximum permitted by the Scottish Government without paying penalties – as a means to help close the local authority’s funding deficit. It is expected to raise around £1.1 million.
However, there was less harmony over other elements of the financial plan.
Moray Council’s opposition SNP group put forward an alternative budget, which included a move to redesign the council’s management structure (to save £500,000) and create a trust status for leisure facilities (saving £250,000).
However, this was voted down in favour of the Independent/Conservative administration’s budget. Despite a 12-12 tie, council convener and Conservative councillor Allan Wright broke the deadlock with his casting vote.
Of the savings of around £4 million, much will come from the council reducing funding to the Moray Integrated Joint Board by £1.3 million in line with a Scottish Government settlement offer.
Other proposals include an increase in "council-wide charges" of five per cent (raising £266,000 this year), reducing book fund expenditure (saving £60,000), reducing some training budgets (saving £75,000), not filling a number of vacant council posts and reducing roads budgets.
A proposal not to fill a vacant community warden’s post in Elgin (saving £32,000) was also approved, but a move to reduce by £14,000 Moray Council’s contribution to the Citizens Advice Bureau was voted down.
Introducing the administration’s budget, Moray Council convener Stewart Cree admitted the outlook for public services in Moray "remains grim".
"Next year, we estimate that we will spend £7.6 million more than we receive in income – just to maintain the status quo – and while we have substantial reserves, these can only meet the current level of demand until somewhere around September 2018," he told the meeting.
"By then, the council will have to reduce services significantly, on top of continuing to achieve cost reductions through further efficiency savings.
"The council will also have to continue to increase its income from council tax and charges for services. Even if the (Scottish finance) minister decides to make no further reductions in the levels of grant to councils, it is clear that the current provision is insufficient to sustain existing services and that the new council will have a huge challenge ahead."
More on this story in this Friday's Northern Scot print edition