Most years, councillors and officers are accustomed to say that this has been the most difficult budget-setting round that they have encountered.
No-one involved in local government country-wide will, however, have experienced a more challenging set of circumstances that the ones we face at present. A near perfect storm of the credit crunch, the economic downturn and reduced revenue streams means that 2010/11 will pose very serious questions for council finances - and matters aren't going to get any better in the next 3 - 5 years.
As you may have seen from yesterday's Echo, Darlington is taking the lead amongst North East authorities and publishing its budget proposals first. You can view the paper going to Cabinet on 12th January 2010 here.
Now it's time for the people of Darlington to have their say; the key proposals upon which the consultation is based is as follows;
Proposal One: Freeze Council Tax
The Cabinet is very much aware of the financial challenges many residents and businesses in Darlington are facing and, in light of this, proposes NOT to increase Council Tax this year.
Proposal 2: Balancing the budget
Due to the increasing gap in levels of future funding and the increasing demand in services, members of the Cabinet and officers have developed a number of key proposals to further reduce spending whilst maintaining effective services.
investing an additional £1.4 million in social care to pay for the increase in demand for services;
schools receiving a 3.1% increase in funding in line with an increase in Government grants;
driving efficiencies of £4.7 million across the Council and its services.
Proposal 3: Invest in Darlington
Whilst the Council must find savings, it is also important to invest in the Borough. These investments will be made using capital budgets which we compete with other local authorities to secure from Government.
Over the next four years, the Council proposes to invest £143 million through capital schemes, this includes £10 million on roads, £82 million on schools, £19million on regeneration.
You can email the Council directly with your views here, or go online to the forum here. Alternatively, you can attend the special Talking Together event to discuss the oproposals on Monday 25th January 2010, starting from 5.30pm, at the Dolphin Centre.
Draft council budgets have been consistently re-shaped in previous years as a result of input from residents and staff, so it's well-worth taking an active part in the consultation process. I'll keep you updated as progress develops.