Council tax kept below two per cent

PROTESTERS gathered outside Weston s Town Hall chanting no more cuts before North Somerset Council was due to finalise its budget at a meeting on Tuesday.

PROTESTERS gathered outside Weston's Town Hall chanting 'no more cuts' before - North Somerset Council was due to finalise its budget at a meeting on Tuesday.

They were angry at proposed job and budget cuts members have made to set a below inflation council tax rise of 1.9 per cent.

UNISON members asked for a four per cent rise in line with other local authorities to safeguard services and jobs.

But councillors voted in favour of the proposed lower and rejected opposition amendments to the budget, which would have meant a council tax rise of 2.38 per cent.

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The new budget means elderly people will be charged for day care services, meals on wheels costs will rise and voluntary organisations including Voluntary Action North Somerset and Weston and District Community Transport have had their funding cut.

Overall, the average band D property will pay £20.52 more than last year.

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Annual bills from parish councils, police and fire authorities means that the total increase this year will be 2.68 per cent, so a band D property will pay £1,354.45 this year compared to £1,319.13 last year.

Council leader councillor Nigel Ashton, introducing the budget for 2008/9, said: "We do realise it will affect people and services but at some stage we have to take difficult decisions for long-term stability rather than short-term opportunity.

"Some of the decisions have caused many councillors concern but we have got to stop the rise in staff numbers and expenditure due to targets from central Government.

"We have provided a sustainable budget but there is still more to do."

During a debate on the budget, Cllr Tom Leimdorfer voiced concerns over reductions in educational welfare and educational psychologists' posts, warning the council was 'dangerously' close to not being able to do what is required by law.

The council agreed to job losses of 91.4 full-time equivalent posts, which it says will be met by redeploying staff and not filling vacant posts.

The budget cuts will also mean there will be no community or arts development service and the sports development team will be reduced by half.

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