COUNCIL tax payers in York are facing a three per cent hike as civic leaders try to offset a £6.5 million cut in services.
Parks maintenance, bus service subsidies and home-to-school transport are among the biggest losers in the City of York Council budget proposals for 2016/17, released tonight.
But children’s social care, schemes to tackle fly-tipping and mental health services will come out on top.
The executive says feedback from the recent budget consultation showed that a majority of those who responded would prefer to pay increases in council tax to higher charges or fewer services - but both are needed to balance the books.
The increase includes a two per cent "social care precept" rise to take advantage of the Government’s offer to allow councils to raise more cash to be ring-fenced to meet adult social care costs.
Together those proposals will bring in an extra £2.2 million, on top of £2.2 million expected growth because the number of homes to tax has increased, and £1.6 million in surplus tax collected last year, but council leaders still say there are "stark choices" to be made.
Leader Cllr Chris Steward said: “We have been clear that we wish to protect the most vulnerable and focus on frontline services.
"We have therefore decided to take the adult social care precept as in this directorate we want to ensure people get well looked after. On council tax generally, whilst the majority of councils are raising tax by the maximum allowable we have found ways to get best value for residents so we can keep the increase lower than most of our peers."
Local authorities can raise council tax by up to two per cent - on top of the two per cent for social care - before they have to hold local referendum. The York leaders say that tax increases reflect what residents told them they wanted, in budget consultations held earlier this year and last.
Lib Dem deputy leader Cllr Keith Aspden added: “We are focusing resources on frontline services such as road repairs, street lighting, tackling fly-tipping and graffiti as well as plans to make York the Greenest City in the North.
"We are also investing in community mental health facilities and supporting local businesses after the floods by freezing car park charges across the city.
"Continued funding cuts and the increased costs of elderly care have left the council with some stark choices. However, we have listened to residents and whilst making significant savings we are ensuring the funding is in place for vulnerable children, adult social care and crucial street-level services."
However, with £70 million spent last year alone on adult social care, councillors and the authority's finance chief Ian Floyd admit that the roughly £1.5 million to come in from the social care precept will not go far.
"It helps, but this is still a challenge," Cllr Aspden added.
Opposition Labour councillor Neil Barnes said the ruling administration had benefitted from his party's "sensible management" of the council finances before power was handed over at the election last year.
He said: “Yet even with that, public parks have been targeted through significant cuts to grounds maintenance, while public bus services face big changes as a big chunk of subsidy is removed, leaving evening and other services vulnerable to being cut. These are frontline services.
He added: “Such significant savings in the areas of children and adult social services, to nursing care, residential and respite care and to looked after children will require further scrutiny to ensure this budget isn’t simply an attack on those least able to protect those services they benefit from and rely on.
“And after failing to meet the need for council tax support, the coalition has also made a big cut to the York Financial Assistance scheme for those in desperate need. These are the kinds of decisions this budget will be remembered for, as well as a Tory council leader having to eat his words and increase council tax”.
While the council tax increases are set to bring in an extra £6 million, councillors have still planned £6.5 million in cuts to balance the books - the equivalent to 5.5 percent of City of York's net budget.
Among the worst hit are:
- Parks maintenance and gardeners, losing £72,000 in the first year
- York Theatre Royal will get a one off sum of £760,000 to help finish its refit, before its annual subsidy is scrapped saving £124,000
- Bus subsidies will be cut by £350,000 in two years. Evening and weekend services will be "rationalised", and support for the number 20 axed.
- Care for older people will see around £650,000 cut over two years in a push to keep people out of residential and nursing care, and independent in their own homes.
- Residential home fees are to go up for those who pay for their own care in council-owned homes - from £543 to £601 per week.
- A "Transforming Care" project for adults with learning disabilities will save £1.1 million over two years, by bringing people back into York from out-of-area placements and giving more individual budgets for people to decide their own care.
- £300,000 to be cut from the Home to School transport budget over two years - by getting rid of a bus to Manor CE Academy and by withdrawing helpers for children with special educational needs.
- The York Financial Assistance Scheme is losing £200,000, bringing the budget down from £715,000 a year.
Some areas are in line for fresh investment, and the council is putting more money into:
- Children’s social care which will get an extra £1.9 million in 2016/17 for safeguarding looked after children.
- A further £100,000 investment is lined up for mental health services - £234,000 is being put into the Community Safety Hub to tackle things like fly-tipping and graffiti - £60,000 will pay for a strategic flood risk assessment.
- £350,000 will be spent completing the long-delayed Local Plan, while £5000 is to be set aside to help complete York's "Local List" of valued historic buildings.
- An investment of £338,000 for Haisthorpe House care home in Holgate.
- An extra £115,000 is going into the winter maintenance budget.