Two senior Tory councillors refused to take part in Perth and Kinross budget talks because they couldn’t stomach a 4% increase in council tax.
The Conservative/Lib Dem administration said the increase was needed to stave off threats to front-line services including lollipop patrols, school swimming lessons and roads maintenance crews.
The council leaders’ spending plan was narrowly voted through on Wednesday. Provost Dennis Melloy used his casting vote to pass the budget and reject an alternative plan put forward by the SNP, Independent and Labour groups.
Conservative councillors Callum Purves and Colin Stewart stayed away from the full-day meeting in protest at the council tax rise, understood to have been proposed by Liberal Democrat members of the administration. Their absence meant voting was tighter than usual.
The pair declined to comment last night.
A series of contentious cutbacks was proposed by council number-crunchers last week to save more than £52 million over the next five years
Council leader Murray Lyle said the 4% tax rise would allow for more than £3.5 million to protect key services, as well as a further £3.4 million of investment including key funding for the long-awaited PH20 project and the Blairgowrie Recreation Centre.
Savings to school budgets, crossing patrols, primary swimming lessons and winter maintenance budgets were all rejected outright.
Rural recycling centres, public transport funds and the Safer Communities team were also saved.
Councillors further rejected highly controversial plans to further raise the cost of school music lessons and the so-called brown bin tax.
The council will push ahead with its frozen school meals, despite criticism from opposition councillors who called for the scheme to be scrapped.
Mr Lyle said the budget represented a change in direction for the council. He added that council tax needed to rise because of reduced funding from the Scottish Government.
“While this will only cost a household in a band D property around 90p a week, it will generate approximately £3.3 million of additional funding, which we will use to protect vital council services and build our economy,” he said. “To put this into context, this is equivalent to the annual salaries for about 70 teachers or social workers”.
Lib Dem group leader Peter Barrett added: “The chief financial officer’s report spells out the scale of the cut (of Scottish Government funding) to Perth and Kinross Council at an eye-watering £5m in the face of both rising costs and demands for services, which has made this the hardest council budget I’ve ever known to balance.”
Councillors were told there was an increase in funding from Scottish Government of £5.6m, but much of the money was ring-fenced for specific initiatives, such as early learning and childcare.
Councillor Dave Doogan, whose SNP group proposed – amongst others – free parking for electric vehicles and investment in North Inch golf course, condemned the frozen school meals plan. “We will reject the now farcical savings imagined by the closure of our schools’ production kitchens and the loss of 50 employment opportunities across Perth and Kinross.
“This savings proposal is now an embarrassment to this council, having been exposed as presenting more questions than answers.”
Councillor Xander McDade put forward an alternative spending plan for the Labour and Independent group that called for more money for breakfast clubs and £100,000 for a feasibility study into a railway station at Kinross.
“Our budget is a budget for rural Perth and Kinross and the residents of urban Perth and Kinross who we have looked to protect from unnecessary tax increases,” he said.
Ahead of the meeting, there were protests outside the council HQ by demonstrators fighting for rural services and music tuition costs.