NEARLY 2,000 people have told Huntingdonshire District Council how they think it should deal with an expected £5million budget shortfall over the next three years.

NEARLY 2,000 people have told Huntingdonshire District Council how they think it should deal with an expected £5million budget shortfall over the next three years.

An analysis of those responses will be fed into the budget-setting process for spending and revenue-raising from April next year.

The council conducted 250 face-to-face interviews with residents, a further 568 took part in an inter-active online consultation on a wide combination of options for cost-cutting and increases in charges, and more than 1,000 residents gave their views on paper and by e-mail.

"The responses are currently being analysed and the views expressed will help us, over the next few months, as we strive to set our budget for the coming year," a spokesman said.

"HDC has to make significant savings over the next few years and, while it has already identified ways of making economies such as sharing services with partners and reducing staffing levels, it still needs to make further efficiencies by reshaping services. It is on this aspect that the consultation is based."

HDC is expecting Whitehall contributions to be slashed following the comprehensive review of spending currently being undertaken by the Treasury, the results of which are scheduled to be unveiled on October 20.

Among the options HDC is considering is a 36 per cent hike in the Council Tax precept in two years' time, cutting staff numbers at Pathfinder House, freezing pay, sharing support functions with other parts of the public sector, 're-shaping' services, increasing the cost of activities at its leisure centres and putting up charges for licensing, planning and car parking.

In the meantime, it has been asking for residents to say what mix of service cuts and price increases would be acceptable in HDC's own austerity budget.

The council's savings plan could include one in 12 jobs going - probably without compulsory redundancies - while other cash-saving or money-raising measures being considered include raising the Council Tax precept to raise £2.6million.

But Council Tax is likely to be frozen in the first and possibly also the second year of the three-year period, so the 36 per cent hike could all come in 2013/14.

Less than 10 per cent of the council's £80m budget this year comes from Council Tax. After income from planning and licensing fees, leisure centres and car parking charges, HDC is having to find £25m from central and local taxpayers.

This year, in addition to the Government's £13m contribution, Council Tax will account for £7.24m, and £4.7m will come from reserves - primarily what is left of the proceeds of the sale of the council housing stock to social landlord Luminus in 2000.

Those reserves, of which there will be around £11m left by the end of next March, are likely to be raided again next year to help meet the funding gap.