Our residents will hear this week that the District Council intends to increase its share of Council Tax bills for the first time in six years.
The proposal of a 1.95% increase – subject to agreement by councillors on 3 March – would mean Dales households paying on average 1p more a day for District Council services in 2016/17.
The District Council, which collects Council Tax on behalf of all local authorities but only spends 12% of the total (Derbyshire County Council's share is 70%), will be explaining at a 7pm community forum at Ashbourne Leisure Centre on Wednesday (3 February) how it is managing to provide services to local people at an average cost of just 53p a day – despite the continuing squeeze on its finances.
Services provided by the District Council include affordable housing, business support, leisure centres and health initiatives, waste and recycling collections, parks maintenance, street cleaning and leading on crime prevention initiatives.
A larger than anticipated £603,000 (21%) central government grant cut in 2016/17 comes on top of grant reductions of 13.8% last year, 10.8% in 2014/15 and 15.6% in 2013/14 – but the District Council is pledging there will be no significant service reductions in the coming year despite an overall 3.7% reduction in its spending power from £9.143m to £8.804m.
The lack of a government incentive this year to local councils that freeze charges means Local Council Tax payers are being asked to fund grant cuts following five consecutive increase-free years.
Successive government grant cutbacks mean the District Council needs to make additional ongoing savings of £0.7 million over the next five years – and it is pledging to continue to identify savings through its comprehensive service review programme.
District Council Leader Councillor Lewis Rose OBE said:
"As an authority we have done incredibly well to keep our heads above water without a significant impact on the frontline services we provide for the people of the Derbyshire Dales.
"The work we have done reviewing all our services should not be under-estimated, not only in making them more efficient, but in some cases delivering them differently, sometimes with partners or as shared services. We have had no choice but to examine in the greatest detail the way we spend every penny - and that has also meant rationalising reserves and reprioritising our capital spend.
"That said, there is huge uncertainty over future funding regimes and, to be frank, we are now running out of money-saving options. Our reserves are the lowest they have been for many years and more radical solutions may well be needed in the future.
"While our current capital programme can be funded, future capital projects will need critical evaluation and it should come as no surprise to local people if we as a council are forced to make some difficult and potentially unpopular decisions in the coming years."
Substantial savings have been identified following completed reviews of the District Council's administration service, leisure service, tourism service and discretionary grants, and from a merger of its grounds maintenance and street cleansing functions. Other ongoing service reviews are helping the District Council to keep Council Tax increases to a minimum.