Pay tax or face the axe
TAXPAYERS across East Cambridgeshire are being asked which vital services should be axed as county council chiefs struggle to balance their books. They are also being asked to decide how much of their hard-earned cash they can forfeit in Council Tax as th
TAXPAYERS across East Cambridgeshire are being asked which vital services should be axed as county council chiefs struggle to balance their books.
They are also being asked to decide how much of their hard-earned cash they can forfeit in Council Tax as the county fights to bridge a £10 million cash shortfall.
The move leaves long-suffering householders making tough choices which could see the county's elderly and most vulnerable losing crucial services.
The funding crisis comes as the Tory-controlled county council aims to increase its budget by 9.6 per cent - almost four times the rate of inflation.
Now they are asking householders to decide where the axe should fall depending on how much they are prepared to cough up in Council Tax payments.
The severity of the cuts depends on whether taxpayers opt for a four, five or six per cent increase in their annual bill.
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A five per cent increase would add an extra 81 pence a week to an average Band D tax bill - £42.12p a year.
But whatever the outcome it will hit householders hard in the pocket and still lead to drastic cuts in services countywide.
"I think they are losing the plot," said Liberal Democrat deputy leader, cllr Judy Broadway. "This is an absolutely daft way of running government - letting the people make the choice as to which services they are prepared to give up.
"Every year we ask them to make sure that they have the right amount of money in their budget so that half way through the year we are not heading for an overspend. We want them to put figures in the budget that are realistic and not just a wish list.
"We want to see a local income tax which would be a much fairer system."
Taxpayers have been warned a Council Tax rise is inevitable and have until February 21 to decide how much they are prepared to pay.
Cambridgeshire County Council leader, cllr Keith Walters, claims he is determined to keep the increase to a maximum of five per cent but that would still mean major cuts to road maintenance, buses, home care support for older people and younger disabled people and a reduction in work to assist the learning of primary aged children.
There would be limited investment in the Youth Service, despite Government directives to plough in cash.
Funding for the Youth Offending Service remains at 20 per cent below the national average - a serious issue picked up during the inspection into the county's social services which contributed to it being stripped of its three-star status.
The disabled would be asked to pay for their special Blue Badges and services to disabled children would be delivered only at the point of crisis, with limited early intervention.
"Early intervention picks up on problems before they become big issues costing more money," added Cllr. Broadway. "This is just shooting yourself in the foot."
Cambridgeshire County Council has blamed the funding crisis on the Government's decision to give the county one of the lowest grant increases for next year.
"The massive growth in population we are facing places huge demand upon public services - more older people to care for, traffic on our roads and waste requiring disposal" said Cllr Walters. "And yet no account is taken for this in our funding settlement from Government.
"We have been vigorously looking at all services to reduce spending and will be saving over £6 million this year through a range of efficiencies. But that still leaves us with a massive funding gap which needs to be bridged.
"I don't want to cut services especially in key areas like highway maintenance, support for public transport and home care support for older people and young disabled people. But nor can I expect the council taxpayer, especially older people and those on fixed incomes to compensate for the Government's inadequate settlement for Cambridgeshire."
A leaflet and questionnaire outlining the possible options is being widely distributed to parish councils, schools and businesses and can be found in public libraries.
The council is also organising a telephone survey amongst a representative sample of Cambridgeshire residents and councillors will be on hand at larger libraries to answer questions.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? What the priorities for Council Tax spending. Do you have any examples of councils wasting public funds. Write and tell us or telephone and ask to speak to a reporter. Write to: The Ely Standard (Council Tax) 38 Market Street, Ely, CB7 4LS or email: email@example.com