Councillors are today expected to agree a balanced Highland budget achieved through service cuts, raiding emergency funds and slashing insurance costs.
Administration leaders have prioritised roads, education and adult care for protection from cutbacks.
Council tax will rise by a minimum 3% – but by a greater sum for the 27% of people living in band E-H homes who will pay between £2.05 and £10.06 extra per month as the result of a Scottish Government-imposed rise marking the end of the nine-year council tax freeze.
A total of 26 staff have taken redundancy to help balance the £500million package compared with 300 last year.
The redundancies will once again be paid for by the council’s emergency “reserves” fund which has been depleted to its lowest level in modern times. Finance director Derek Yule will reveal its latest balance later today.
Council chiefs warned the misery of successive cuts was not over. They expect to have to reduce spending by a further 4% next year and again the following year.
The budget has been balanced by bridging a £20million gap but may change at the last minute when considered in full at a special meeting in Inverness today.
It was unclear whether opposition SNP and Liberal Democrat groups might propose alterations. If so, they will be told the revamp must be costed.
Budget leader Bill Fernie said the process had, once again, been “tough” because of late information about government grant allocation and late news of additional money thanks to an element of higher council tax being retained locally.
The £6million bonus, confirmed just a fortnight ago, prompted a rush of last-minute lobbying by political groups and individuals.
Mr Fernie said: “I’d never had so many emails in my life.
“We’ve shrunk the number of areas being cut considerably compared to what we started out with.”
About £580,000 will be saved by increasing the level of excess in insurance cover for the council’s 2,000 buildings, resulting in a lower premium.
“The finance director’s view is that it’s an acceptable risk,” Mr Fernie said.
Transport chairman Allan Henderson said: “We’ve listened to the public and recognise the importance of roads to our communities.”
The planning department will take a major hit to help fund education and roads.
A fledgling cross-party “redesign” of the council’s entire structure will have a limited impact on this budget but is expected to be more significant in a year’s time.