BACKING has been given to the mammoth task of making cuts totalling nearly £14 million over the next financial year.
Wrexham Council’s executive board met yesterday to discuss savings totalling £13.9m for 2014/15, which were backed by seven votes to three.
The cash-strapped authority faces the need to make savings of at least £45m over the next five years to meet expected funding shortfalls.
At the same time residents are likely to face a council tax hike of three per cent, which has been built into the authority budget for next year.
About £2.8m is set to be cut from staffing costs alone with voluntary redundancy and early voluntary retirement having already been offered to the entire workforce.
Libraries in Brymbo and Gresford will close in April unless ongoing discussions for community groups to provide the service elsewhere in both villages prove fruitful, offering a saving of £92,000.
The council has backed proposals to remove subsidies for bus services to save £495,000. Services are likely to be withdrawn unless the cost of running them is taken on by bus companies.
Community centres, rural public toilets, school crossing patrols and bowling greens, where funding for them has not been taken on by community councils or other organisations, also face the axe.
Even the frequency of grass cutting will be reduced to just twice a year across the county borough in a bid to save £256,000.
Protesters gathered outside the meeting over controversial proposals to close Plas Madoc and Waterworld leisure centres and replace them with a new £11.9m facility in the town centre. However, that decision has been deferred until next month to allow more time for consultations.
During the meeting the leader of the Wrexham Independent Group, Cllr David A. Bithell, put forward a recommendation for all proposals to be deferred claiming there were “too many loose ends”.
However, his motion was defeated by seven votes to three with only fellow Wrexham Independent councillor Joan Lowe and Liberal Democrat Carol O’Toole voting in support.
The budget will go before the full council for approval next month.
A FURIOUS row broke out at the meeting among Labour Party members over plans to remove £50,00 a year in core funding for the Venture children’s adventure playground in Caia Park.
Queensway councillor Colin Powell, who manages a similar facility in the area, Gwenfro Valley, was at loggerheads with lead member for education, Michael Williams, who moved the proposals as part of changes to third sector funding.
Cllr Powell said the Venture, which he co-founded, was likely to close if the funding was removed.
He said: “As a member for Queensway, and bearing in mind Caia Park has been identified as having one of the highest levels of child poverty in the UK, it is imperative it continues to operate.
“Can I ask that the executive board reconsiders the decision to remove funding for third sector organisations?”
Cllr Powell accused officers of making misrepresentations about the proposals and questioned the openness and transparency of the consultation which was carried out.
However, Cllr Williams hit back by saying: “It’s not the job of the county borough council to provide core funding, it’s the job of Wrexham County Borough Council that a contract goes out to provide a service based on need.
“I recognise the work the Venture has done over a number of years but what you must recognise as well is that over the last five years there has been a whole raft of funding in Caia Park and other communities which are there to address issues of poverty.”
He said the funding was provided five years ago on the understanding the Venture would make itself self-sustaining once the contract came to an end.
He added: “The Venture employs 30 staff and we’re in a situation where we have to make huge cuts to public services and I don’t see why that can’t apply to third sector organisations too.
“As for the misrepresentations I don’t have any evidence for that.”
Wynnstay councillor and lead member for finance, Cllr Malcolm King, who founded the Venture, left the room while the item was dicussed declaring a personal and prejudicial interest.
Changes to third sector funding were agreed by seven votes with two absentions.
RURAL ward councillors raised large concerns in relation to bus funding cuts.
Holt councillor Michael Morris said the C56, which connects Holt to Wrexham and Chester was one of the services which could be afftected.
In tota,l 36 early morning, evening and Sunday services across the county are under threat because of the proposals.
Cllr Morris said: “It’s only very recently that people have realised the effect these proposals will have.
“I’ve had 39 emails and 23 telephone calls over the last month about this.
“The reduction of subsidised bus services by £495,000 - Joe Bloggs public probably doesn’t necessarily know what that entails.
“We hear about poverty and hardship but there are major practical difficulties of living eight miles either way from a town.
“The general feeling is it’s going to stop on March 31 if the subsidy stops.”
His concerns were echoed by Llangollen rural councillor Pat Jeffares, Chirk councillor Terry Evans and Ceiriog Valley councillor Barbara Roberts.
In response, Cllr Bob Dutton, lead member for environment, said: “We cannot answer what commercial operators will finally decided in terms of their needs and requirements.”
CUTS to funding for grass cutting will see grassed areas mowed just twice a year.
Executive board member Joan Lowe raised concerns that the move could lead to more grass fires in Wrexham.
Cllr Michael Morris added: “You’re going to get large areas of land traditionally used by children which will be unplayable.
“You might be able to hide a herd of buffalo, but you’re not going to be able to play a game of football.”
Cllr Pat Jeffares questioned whether it would lead to a reduction in tourists visiting the county’s World Heritage site.
Cllr Bob Dutton, lead member for environment, admitted the proposals were of concern to the environment department.
He said: “It is very serious as far as we’re concerned. I’m sure members of the executive board don’t want to see run down areas of Wrexham, as that will see a reduction in investment in Wrexham.”
He added the situation with regard to grass cutting would be reviewed if it became urgent in certain areas.
THE issue was raised again of the role of the mayor, which has cost the council more than £40,000 in the last three years.
While not party to the cuts being considered, Cllr Terry Evans asked whether it was time to “park up” the role.
“The mayoralty of this council has gone on for many years. Can we afford it?” he asked.
“Should the chains and the regalia be put in the museum until we can afford it?”
But council leader Neil Rogers said: “It’s been spoken about at great length. I challenge those councillors proposing it to put forward a motion.”
TEN community centres will face closure after proposals were agreed to start shutting them from April - unless community groups provide funding.
Community councillors have agreed to fund nine community centres across Wrexham.
The remaining 10 face closure and being bulldozed from April unless agreements are reached, although proposals for dual-use centres in Holt, Borras Park and Ruabon, where they double up as the school hall, are still under discussion.
Cllr Joan Lowe questioned how those discussions had progressed.
But Lawrence Isted, head of community wellbeing and development, said talks were still in their early stages and the schools had not given no indication as yet as to how they felt about the idea.
The proposals were approved with seven in favour and three abstentions.
TWO libraries are facing closure unless an alternative provision can be found.
Both Brymbo and Gresford libraries will close in April after the executive board approved the proposals, although discussions are ongoing for community groups to provide the service elsewhere in both villages.
Brymbo Library may be saved if it is moved to Brymbo Enterprise Centre, which would need external funding from the Welsh Government.
And a public meeting is being held at 7.30pm on Wednesday, January 29, at Gresford Memorial Hall to consider alternative provision in the village.
Cllr Hugh Jones, lead member for communities, partnerships and collaboration, said the council was looking to establish a trust to deliver library and museums services to prevent future library closures.
Tory group leader Cllr Rodney Skelland questioned why Wrexham needed more than one library with the growing use of technology. However, his comments were rejected by fellow Conservative Cllr Jones, who highlighted their use by schoolchildren.
Other proposals which were given backing are the reduction of opening hours at all libraries by an average of 19 per cent.
Gresford Labour councillor Andrew Bailey said: “I’ve had numerous expressions of support for the library.
“I can’t save the library on my own - the community has got to do that.
“We’re almost definitely looking at relocations.
“If you want to save your library, then come along and say your piece.”
Speaking after the meeting Brymbo Tory councillor Paul Rogers said: “The closure of Brymbo Library at its current location is disappointing for the community.
"I am hopeful we can find an alternative location, secure grant funding to reopen a library in the future and I'm pleased the council has offered support to enable this to go forward."
The library proposals were approved with seven votes in favour, one against and one abstention.