SEVEN Wrexham housing offices could be axed by the County Borough Council in an urgent bid to cut service costs and balance the books.
Tenants will now have their say on plans to change Wrexham's housing service, which include closure of the Cefn, Chirk, Coedpoeth, Hightown, Llay, Afon and Springlodge estate offices from April 1 next year.
The proposals were put forward by council chiefs last Tuesday, after a series of meetings with tenants to determine ways of balancing the housing revenue account and streamlining the housing service.
Changes are said to be unavoidable due to the stock transfer 'no' vote by tenants earlier this year.
Members met in April to discuss the implications of the vote and take certain measures to tackle a £1.3m deficit in the housing revenue account.
The stock is also in need of some £274m to bring it up to the Welsh Housing Quality Standard by 2012.
Members proposed to rationalise the number of local estate offices to cut expenditure because rents are diminishing due to 'right to buy' sales reducing housing stock.
To maintain contact with tenants, surgeries could be held in those areas and the remaining estate offices will take over the management of those areas affected.
Afon and Springlodge estate offices will be replaced with one central office at Kingsley Circle by July 2005.
Up to 20 posts could be cut due to the closures, but as posts have been frozen and a high level of vacancies exist in the department, no redundancies will occur and staff will be re-deployed within the housing department.
Chirk councillor, Ian Roberts pointed out that the Chirk estate office was used for other services and asked for a review of the use of the building.
'I see the Chirk estate office as a community asset, but I can see it has a large capital value which makes it a target for funds that may not be readily available in other areas,' he said.
And Smithfield councillor John Humberstone was particularly concerned about the closures of rural estate offices and the impact on the elderly population.
'Staff at central estate offices will come under a considerable amount of pressure,' he said.
'Perhaps incentives could be introduced to encourage people to consider other forms of payment, such as Direct Debit and standing orders.
'If we encourage people to pay through the Post Offices this might help sustain Post Offices in local areas.'
Recommended changes also include scrapping the Assisted Gardening Scheme which would cost nearly £600,000 over the next three years.
However, members have expressed concern about removing the scheme from the elderly, and there was a suggestion of retaining the service for them with the help of voluntary organisations, which will be reviewed in January.
Gwersyllt councillor, Ted George, suggested that unkempt gardens could identify the elderly and disabled, making them possible targets for burglary and Malcolm King, councillor for Wynnstay, was confident volunteers would come forward to assist in the scheme.
He said: 'There are approximately 2,000 voluntary organisations, showing the vast amount of good will in Wrexham.
'When they see this service is at risk, I'm sure they will come forward.'
Wrexham is one of the few authorities in Wales to provide this service but it is not a statutory requirement and the council says it can no longer afford to fund it.
As a result of the meeting last Tuesday, there will also be a review of the door-to-door rent collection service and the proposal to charge for the service has been removed from the recommendations.
Andy Lewis, chief housing and public protection officer, said: 'Some difficult decisions had to be made by members and particular thanks were given to tenants and staff who have worked to develop these proposals during a very difficult time.
'We will now look ahead to the future of the report in January, when further difficult decisions will have to be made.'