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Rainy day cash option to prevent cuts or council tax rise
CASH saved for a rainy day could be used to stave off a tough choice between either raising council tax or cutting benefits.
The old system of council tax benefits is being axed, leaving Wycombe District Council with £1m less and weighing up how to meet the shortfall.
The possibility of finance chiefs solving the problem by dipping into the authority's piggy bank - its reserves cash - now appears to be on the table.
Another Tory authority, Chiltern District Council, has already opted to keep the current system in place and make up the numbers by using its reserve account.
Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors at WDC have suggested doing the same and Leader Alex Collingwood, Conservative, has left the door open for the idea.
Cllr Collingwood told a public meeting: "We are very much open to all options and we encourage residents to give us their views and responses."
The cash reserves option has emerged as an alternative, at least in the short term.
Bosses said last month either the current council tax freeze will have to be scrapped or about half of the 9,000 people on the benefit will lose out by as much as £300 per year.
A rise in council tax would mean about £13 extra a year for the average band D property for whom the bill is about £1,400 annually currently.
Lib Dem group leader Cllr Trevor Snaith said: "We’ve got lots of reserves sitting there so you could ask the question why Wycombe are not using their reserves as well? I think the option CDC have gone with is very good."
The Free Press reported in April that WDC the fourth biggest of its kind in the country, has more money in reserve than about three quarters of all UK councils, according to Government statistics.
The last accounts showed it had about £40m in reserves.
Councils are generally cautious about spending these funds because they are considered to be for emergencies.
Labour group leader Cllr Victoria Groulef said: "I've already written to the cabinet member Roger Wilson asking him to look into it and with a whole list of questions and possible suggestions which I think will make for a fairer system."
She said the reserves option needed properly costing.
Finance chief Cllr Roger Wilson, Conservative, and top officials explained that the move has been forced upon them by the Government, but they would strive to look after the poorest.
But Cllr Groulef had no sympathy for Tory or Lib Dem complaints, saying: "Both the Tories and Lib Dems locally at the moment are saying it's not my fault governor, but it is their fault, their government implementing this crazy scheme."
Residents have until October 17 to complete a questionnaire - either online www.wycombe.gov.uk or at the council offices.