Will you pay 5 % more council tax to protect services in Wrexham?

Reporter:

Jonathan Grieve

ELECTED officials clashed as the public was asked to consider a council tax hike to protect frontline services.

Cllr Alun Jenkins urged residents to give serious thought to a potential five per cent rise in council tax in order to reduce the cuts Wrexham Council is forced to make from its 2018/19 and 2019/20 budgets.

But council leader, Cllr Mark Pritchard, said increasing council tax would hit families on the breadline and added it was not the authority’s responsibility to subsidise services.

The local authority is looking to slash £13 million from its budget over the next two years – about £6.5m per year.

Demolishing or transferring ownership of bowling greens and disused community centres, ending a funding agreement for PCSOs early, higher council tax, fewer offices, increased school meals prices and charging Blue Badge holders for using car parks are among the many cuts and savings proposed in the draft Difficult Decisions consultation.

The shortfall is in addition to the £18m already saved over the last three years. and an overall saving of £52m since 2008.

Cllr Alun Jenkins said if members of the public were happy to take a five per cent increase on their council tax – an extra £52 per year – some vital frontline services could be protected from the axe.

He said: “Maybe it is time we consider the unthinkable and raise council tax to avoid future cuts.

“It is a question for the public of Wrexham. Is it worth paying that extra small amount to stop the reduction of some services?

“At the moment we pay very little in council tax and by paying more we could put off some of these difficult decisions.

“Families are struggling to pay the bills and Wrexham is no different but there are strong arguments against the cuts that are being put forward and there are ways to avoid them.”

But Cllr Pritchard was vehemently opposed to the suggestion.

“I think a council tax increase is not the answer to all this,” he said. “This will continue year after year until austerity stops – whenever that might be.

“Let’s be frank – I disagree that our council tax is low and there are a lot of people for whom a three per cent increase would kill them.

“If we put it up by five per cent, I could not support that. There are families out there struggling and it is the easy option for us to sit here and ask the public to pay more.

“Why should we be the ones to subsidise services? We have been left with the dirty end of the stick, dealing with this situation on a day-to-day basis.

“These cuts are imposed on us by Welsh Government and Westminster.”

It is proposed that disused community centres in Kingsley Circle, Abenbury and Penycae are transferred to a third party or “considered for disposal and demolition”.

This could save around £3,000 in 2018/19 and a further £11,000 in 2019/20.

The document proposes that £300,000 could be saved in 2019/20 by ending council funding for schools music.

An estimated £206,000 could be saved in 2018/19 with ‘general efficiencies’ in the environmental department, which would include offering bowling facilities and pavilions to community councils or bowling clubs to manage.

The document states that reduced staff numbers due to the reshaping of services means a reduced need for office space, and that an estimated £229,000 could be saved in 2019/20.

It is also proposed to cut the number of rangers at the county borough’s 11 country parks, with the Streetscene service helping staff to clean the parks.

Facilities and staff that are grant supported will continue to be maintained according to the grant criteria.

The council provides funding to the North Wales police and crime commissioner to fund PCSOs, with the agreement set to end in March 2019. It is proposed to bring this forward to October 2018.

The document adds: “If this funding cannot be identified from elsewhere, this could result in the number of PCSOs within the county borough reducing.”

It is estimated to generate savings of approximately £140,000 in 2018/19 and a further £140,000 in 2019/20.

Increasing the annual fee for concessionary bus passes to non-qualifying students on school transport services from £50 to £100 could generate around £6,000 in the first year, the document adds.

Members voted to approve a public consultation on the proposals, which is to run from today until November 30.

Council deputy leader, Cllr Hugh Jones, said: “The deeper we cut, the more difficult it becomes. We are still trying to achieve more efficiencies but we are at a point where we have no option but to cut our frontline services.

”No-one in this room, irrespective of party affiliation, came into local government to do this. The reality is that as a result of cuts to our funding, we have to cut our budget.”

Email:

jonathan.grieve@nwn.co.uk

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