The borough council claims it is an early Christmas present for council tax payers but opposition Labour councillors insist it is ‘dishonest and politically motivated’.
Their fury follows a move by the Tory controlled council to switch the annual budget meeting from late winter 2015 to this mid-October.
In a surprise move, the wraps will come off at a meeting of the wholly Conservative executive on Monday ahead of a special meeting of the full council on October 16.
Labour claims the move will deny residents the usual full public consultation.
Leader Cllr Samantha Dixon said: “This is a dishonest and politically motivated move by Tories.
“It is clear they are panicking and will do anything to avoid full and proper scrutiny of their financial plans in the run-up to next year’s all-out council and general election.
“We aren’t even halfway through the year and yet we’re having this artificial and unnecessary timetable forced on us.
“It is utterly premature and there are a number of unknowns, not least the settlement from the coalition Government which isn’t being announced until November.
“There’s a palpable sense of cutting and running and it shows, yet again, that this Tory administration does not care about the views of the people it’s supposed to work for.”
Cllr Dixon argues that, to her knowledge, the council is the only one in the country following what she describes as ‘this bizarre timetable’.
She has written to Tory leader Cllr Mike Jones asking for an explanation.
“His reply, claiming that this move will provide stability to the council and its partners, is clearly flawed as it takes no account of potential changes coming out of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, never mind any other factors that may affect the British economy or Cheshire West over the next five months,” she insisted.
Labour Finance spokesperson Cllr Ben Powell added: “Even for the Tories, this is a new low.
“This is just another rushed announcement from a shambolic and discredited Tory group who are running scared from proper debate.
“One thing I can promise is that even if the Tories won’t have a full and frank conversation about the council’s finances between now and the election, the Labour group will.”
Unmoved, the Conservative administration is proposing a two-year freeze on council tax bills.
If approved by the full council on October 16, the authority’s precept for an average band D property will have remained at a standstill for three years with the potential of a fourth.
Tories point out since the reorganisation of local government, they have set six council taxes and have saved the average council taxpayer £177.
Resources chief Cllr Eveleigh Moore Dutton (Con) says a review of costs and income for 2015/17 shows that whilst the council still faces ‘significant funding reductions’ compared to 2014/15, savings in corporate budgets and the impact of local growth measures have boosted funds by £12m.
“These improvement have enabled the council to not only address the previously reported residual funding gap but also increase support to our children’s and adult services, which are experiencing growth pressures and to introduce plans for a council tax freeze into 2016/17,” she reports.
Despite a ‘like for like’ reduction in the council’s spending power of £24.6m over the period – £13.1m in 2015 – policy proposals fully meet the gap and enable the authority to develop a balanced budget in each year.
If agreed by the executive, the full council will be asked to approve a net expenditure budget of £274m for 2015/16 and an estimated capital budget of £203m for 2015/17.
The capital budget includes major projects such as sports and leisure facilities for Ellesmere Port and Northwich, continued investment in highways and schools and the roll out of superfast broadband across the borough.
Commenting on the switch of the budget meeting to October, Cllr Moore Dutton said: “Since its inception the council has taken a proactive approach to budget setting, focused not only on planning for the next year but also developing strategies to make savings into the medium and long term.
“The main advantage from approving the budget for 2015/16 well in advance of the start of the year is the greater clarity and certainty it will give officers, members and the public over the council’s intentions.”
If the Executive and the full council backs the recommendations, a formal tax resolution to freeze Band D council tax at £1,275.23 for 2015/16 will go before full council in February next year.
A Tory source said: “I would have thought the time available for scrutiny of the budget was immaterial as there are no real policy or budgetary changes.
“All were announced, scrutinised and voted on last year as part of a three-year plan.
“How much money do they think we should spend on consulting on a budget that is essentially unchanged and on which there has already been a full consultation?
“This is not something that has been done for political advantage but in order to give clarity and certainty to council taxpayers, service users and management.”