COUNCIL Tax in Wirral is to rise by almost 4% after the Labour-run authority's spending plans for the coming year were approved.
Councillors voted in favour of the increase, along with a £28m package of cuts, at the end of a heated three-hour budget meeting at Wallasey Town Hall on Thursday night.
Labour's draft budget was challenged by opposition groups, who presented their own proposals.
Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had tabled motions calling on the council to delete the policy officer post currently occupied by Martin Liptrot on an annual salary of £45,000 a year - £56,000 with pension contributions - and scrap plans to close the Saughall Massie-based Girtrell Court care home, which is the subject of public consultation.
But in the end Labour’s budget proposal was carried by 42 votes to 17, with one abstention.
The measures, presented during a meeting of the cabinet last week, include:
- Withdrawal of planned savings of £203,000 from Wirral's library service for a full review over the next 12 months.
- Investing £80m into adult care services and a similar amount for children’s services.
- Suspending any decision over Girtrell Court until consultation is completed.
- Improve roads, tackle anti-social behaviour and revamp leisure and recreational facilities.
- Local authority staff will also take four days' unpaid leave per annum for a further five years.
Council leader Cllr Phil Davies said: "Despite severe government cuts we are proud to have set a balanced budget that continues to make the lives of Wirral residents better.
“We have committed more money to improving our highways, tackling anti-social behaviour and keeping our neighbourhoods safe.
“We are on track to meet our 2020 pledges - increasing recycling levels, attracting jobs and investments and giving our young people the best start in life.
“Government cuts of nearly £130 million over the next five years have meant we have had to make some hard decisions too and we are having to look at alternative ways to provide sustainable services - but we are doing this without losing a single library, one-stop shop or leisure centre.
“Our budget is a sensible and pragmatic one - one that puts value for money, choice and outcomes for our residents first.
“I am proud that this council and its partners are working together to make Wirral a great place to live.”
Conservatives said the town hall should dip into the £108m it currently holds as "cash in bank" - including 86m in "reserves" - and use some of the money to mitigate cuts.
They also proposed reducing the 14 staff involved in media and marketing down to 12, deleting the policy officer post and reinstating "free after three" parking concessions.
Calling for the role of executive policy officer to be scrapped, Conservative group leader, Cllr Jeff Green, said: "This role has added no value to the people of Wirral and, therefore, we should say very openly that it should go and return the £56,000 it is costing to the Council Tax payers of Wirral.
"While on the subject of returning taxpayers' money, if this amendment is agreed tonight it will also see pensioners on fixed incomes who have worked hard all of their lives, played by the rules and paid their taxes protected from the whittling away of the income they need to enjoy their retirement."
In response to the opposition's claims that the budget was uncaring, Cllr Phil Davies said: "Public services are at breaking point, because of cuts made by your government.
"I will take no lessons from the party opposite about caring."
During the debate Leasowe and Moreton Easet Labour councillor Treena Johnson was open about her views on the level of cuts imposed on Wirral by the Government.
She said: "it is an outrage, an absolute disgrace.
“The whole of Wirral is suffering the biggest cuts in years."
She continued to voice her disgust over the fact that no Labour constituencies received any of the £126m offered to local councils.
Before the meeting, more than 50 protesters gathered outside the town hall as the fight to save Girtrell Court continued.
Moreton West and Saughall Massie Conservative councillor Chris Blakeley, who has supported their campaign, demanded answers on the future of Girtrell court.
He asked: "This home has been under threat before. So if it was wrong to close Girtrell Court in the past, then why is it right to close it now?"