COUNCIL tax bills in North Yorkshire could rise for the first time in four years if budget plans are approved, with children's centres under threat and some libraries and recycling centres possibly facing closure.
Conservative-controlled North Yorkshire County Council is proposing a 1.99 per cent increase for 2014/15, saying it would bring £4.6 million into the authority's coffers as it is faced with saving £77 million between 2015 and 2019.
The Government would offer the council a freeze grant if it does not raise bills, but this would equate to a one per cent council tax increase and raise £2.3 million. Even if the increase is approved, the authority will still have to use £1.3 million from its cash reserves to balance its books. Councils will have to hold a referendum if they want to impose a council tax increase above two per cent.
Other proposals which will be considered by the council's executive next Tuesday include reviewing its library service, with a warning that some libraries which are not taken over by their local communities could close. Some children's centres are also likely to shut, although the council said "frontline work" would be protected.
Closing some household waste recycling centres is also a possibility, although ways of generating more income from them or potentially transferring sites to commercial operators will be considered through a review. The council's winter maintenance budget will be cut by £750,000, although this will be done through "efficiency savings" rather than removing roads from the gritting network.
The council said there would also be a "significant reduction" in jobs, but more money would be invested in extra-care housing and the Superfast North Yorkshire broadband programme, while £5 million will be spent on road repairs following recent flooding and bad weather.
A spokesman said the authority had either made or planned for £170 million of spending cuts since 2011 and was already running a £94 million savings programme, which had cut its spending power by about a third. He said the region had, at the same time, seen a 75 per cent increase in child protection cases and more than a quarter of North Yorkshire's adult population was now ocer 65, which had increased the financial pressure on the council. About £20 million of cuts will be made in the year from April onwards.
"The scale of the reduction is unprecedented in the life of the county council, and in modern local government as a whole," said the authority's chief executive, Richard Flinton.
"While savings to date have largely protected the frontline, the next stage will require radically different ways of working."
The county council is currently basing its budget proposals on a provisional funding settlement from the Department for Communities and Local Government, with the final amount possibly not being confirmed until next Wednesday, the day after the executive meets. If the Government lowers the "trigger point" for a council tax referendum, or the settlement substantially differs, the executive may have to look again at its budget recommendations.