Moray Council must find another £20million of cuts before 2021 – with communities warned they will have to take on even more responsibilities.
The full effect of budget savings of more than £10million from February are still being felt across the region amid continued anger about the lack of grass cutting and loss of school crossing patrollers.
Now residents have been warned to brace for worse in the years to come as the authority faces up to the prospect of making “excruciating” decisions to avoid bankruptcy.
Council leader Graham Leadbitter said work has already begun to “modernise” services to help deliver the necessary savings.
However, the leader of the SNP minority administration warned it was “very likely” further burdens would fall on communities to reach the projected savings target of £19.3million.
He said: “There’s already been a tremendous response from communities taking on more, whether its town halls, toilets or some areas of grass cutting.
“It’s very likely we may be looking to ask them to do more as services are reshaped and redesigned. We need to do what we can to support communities to do that so we are in the position to protect as many services as we can.”
Mr Leadbitter added: “We need to think about the changing demographic year on year and what that means for our social care budgets.
“Other council services are under pressure to protect those services that are critical for supporting people’s health and wellbeing.”
Meanwhile, warnings have also been made by the council’s senior management team that the burden on staff to deliver savings is unsustainable.
Reports to be debated by councillors next week reveal that a significant level of “goodwill” is currently depended on from employees.
Mr Leadbitter said staff had “pulled out all the stops” to keep services running but stressed their health must also be treated as a priority.
George Alexander, leader of the Councillors Open Group comprising five independents and one Conservative, fears the savings target may become even larger.
He said: “The symptoms from previous cuts are beginning to show now with the grass cutting. Everyone is very excited about it but there have been other services reduced too that are not nearly as visible.
“There will be other things to come that will be excruciatingly painful. The assumption is our settlement from the Scottish Government will remain the same but the signs coming from Edinburgh are that they have a budget black hole of their own so I can see us having to make even more cuts.
“People are going to have to start rethinking what they expect councils to pay for.”
Conservative group leader Tim Eagle said: “The argument for me will always be ensuring we get enough money from the Scottish Government to deliver what they want us to do.
“If we’re going to ask communities to do more then we need to be certain they can do it. With grass cutting I don’t think it’s feasible to ask people to keep and maintain machinery while doing six or seven cuts a year.
“I think there are questions that can be answered about strategic matters like the leisure estate, property and how it is used as well as social care inclusion.”
Labour councillor John Divers, leader of the Moray Alliance group which also includes three independents, added: “A few years ago David Cameron talked about asking communities to do much more. Here we are a few years down the line where these things are getting forced on people.”