THE axe is set to fall on a series of council services in Three Rivers, to cope with a 16.8 per cent cut in government funding next year.
In order to balance its books, Three Rivers District Council (TRDC) has proposed to scrap free swimming, introduce new parking charges and reduce the number of its councillors.
The move comes after TRDC's government funding – 45 per cent of its net income – was slashed from £5.61million to less than £4million in 2011/12.
The grant will be increased to more than £4.6million by 'floor dampening' – a method of protecting councils facing high decreases in funding – in total equating to the 16.8 per cent reduction.
The cuts are the second largest in Hertfordshire, with only neighbouring council, Hertsmere, gaining less government funding.
A further 14.1 per cent cut has been announced for 2012/13.
While TRDC has pledged to protect front line services, critics say the ruling Liberal Democrat administration should have managed its finances better.
Funding will remain for street cleaning, PCSOs and the annual pantomime, with no plans at present to sell any of the leisure venues in the district.
However, proposals to curb spending also include reducing leisure projects; introducing parking charges for Rickmansworth Aquadrome and town centres; and reducing district councillors' allowances.
All heads of service have also been asked to identify 10 per cent savings for 2011/12, in the hope of protecting front-line services.
The council has already pledged to swap weekly rubbish collection with organic recycling, and will gain extra income when Rickmansworth Police staff begin to rent office space at Three Rivers House next year, as reported in the Gazette.
A TRDC spokesperson insisted the reductions are in line with the council's own forecasts for the next two years, and that councillors are developing a range of measures aimed at reducing costs by about £2million.
The spokesperson said: "TRDC saved £1.24m in the past two years and cut council tax by 0.5 per cent last year. No council tax rise is anticipated for this coming financial year and the budget will be announced in February.
"Over the last few months, we have been planning 10 per cent cuts for next year and we are committed to providing a wide range of excellent services and in particular, for the most vulnerable.
"The council is calling on residents to be proactive and do their bit by helping services to as efficiently as possible – including using the website for routine enquiries, reporting litter, dog-fouling, fly-tipping and graffiti and registering to vote before the council has to send a reminder."
But the leader of the opposition Conservative group, Councillor Chris Hayward, criticised the council for failing to prepare itself for potential funding cuts.
Mr Hayward said: "What is abundantly clear is that cuts of a significant nature will need to be made by the council.
"We believe the council could have prepared itself much better by not utilising the reserves in recent years to continually subsidise their structural deficit.
"We will scrutinise carefully the cuts they seek to make for maximum efficiency gains and minimum impact on front line services.
"We will also produce our own alternative budget proposals in February, when the council meets to set the budget for the coming year."
Increase efficiency in weekly recycling/ refuse services - £234,000
Increasing fees for building control by £75 per application - £45,000
Reducing leisure projects - £35,600
Scrapping year-round free swimming - £15,000
Introducing parking charges at the Aquadrome in 2013/14 - £10,000
Three Rivers Times to be printed on newspaper quality paper with paid for advertisements and reduced photography - £10,000
Reducing cleaning costs at Three Rivers House - £8,000
Increase revenue from grounds hire from 2012/13 - £5,000
Abolition of first class mail - £5,000
Reduced communication officers hours - £4,980
Reducing casual staff - £4,000
Charge external agencies for hire of meeting rooms - £2,440
A-Z directory delivery to all homes cancelled - £4,500 (already implemented)
Abolition of customer service excellence inspection and accreditation over three years - £23,904 (already implemented)
What do you think? How will the cuts affect you? Email Gazette reporter Siba Matti at email@example.com