Council tax charges in Moray will increase by the maximum 4.84% amid concerns of future budget gaps – despite concerns residents are being hit by a “double whammy”.
The rise was finalised yesterday during crunch budget talks in the council chambers about financial plans for the coming year.
The authority’s SNP administration group stressed the increase was needed amid warnings of a further £8.3 million worth of cuts needed next year.
Opposition Conservative councillors wanted the rise capped at 3% – saying that locals were already having to stump-up enough cash to pay for more expensive services, including leisure centre fees and garden bin collections.
The majority of councillors, however, voted to increase council tax by the maximum permitted under Scottish Government rules.
Council leader Graham Leadbitter explained that difficult decisions made 12 months ago, when £10 million worth of savings were made, had put the authority in a more “sustainable position” – but warned further cuts would still be necessary in future years.
He said: “The 4.84% increase in council tax isn’t just for the sake of it. It’s there to protect our services as best as we can.
“Anything less than that would put further and significant pressure on next year’s budget.
“A 3% increase would mean we would have to find £1.6 million in additional savings for 2021/22. That would put us in an extremely difficult position.
“The Conservatives want to ask for more money from the Scottish Government. I think they would be expecting us to use the tools at our disposal at the moment to get to a balanced budget.
“Much as I would like to keep council tax at a low level, if we don’t use it we will end up with significantly greater budget difficulty in future years.”
Moray Council’s budget for this year, which follow £53 million worth of savings made since 2010, included £2.2 million worth of cuts with up to £5 million taken from reserve funds to balance the books.
Savings included reducing cleaning hours at schools, reducing staff numbers at customer services, reducing street light maintenance and increasing income through increased commercialisation within the leisure service.
Conservative councillors argued Moray residents had already handed-over enough cash while enduring a decade worth of savings – calling for a renewed attempt to leverage more money from the Scottish Government to ease the pain on locals.
Elgin City North councillor Frank Brown said: “We know, despite the best effort of our officers who continue to pull fiscal rabbits out of hats, we cannot continue with this model of economics.
“If this SNP administration cannot or will not take our case to Holyrood then we as a council must ensure our case is vigorously pursued with the Scottish Government.
“We do not believe the passive approach of accepting everything they throw at us serves Moray well and further draconian cuts and even higher charges will not save us from bankruptcy – nor do the people deserve them inflicted upon them.”
Mr Leadbitter explained the convention of Scottish local authorities, Cosla, has agreed to review its funding formula for councils – but warned the process was complex and the outcome likely to take time.
He added: “Moray is one voice of the 32 councils, but I am committed to making our voice heard.”
The council leader added that further work would also be done in the coming year to examine how further income could be raised – including from a potential tourist tax.
Meanwhile, independent councillor Derek Ross proposed a compromise 4% increase to council tax fees – while also calling for grass cutting to be reintroduced and public toilets retained.
Councillors voted by 13 to nine in favour of the SNP group’s budget, ahead of the Conservative group’s alternative.