MERSEYSIDE Police has come under fire for plans to spend public money on chilled drinking water.
The force has invited firms to tender for the contract to provide water dispensers at 43 stations across the county.
But the move has triggered protests since it comes as residents face a 5% increase in council tax to pay for increased policing costs in 2005.
Merseyside Police Authority learned last month that the force has been awarded a meagre 3.75% budget increase from the Home Office.
And that means local residents have to foot the bill for the increased cost of policing. Merseyside Chief Constable Bernard Hogan-Howe promised belt-tightening to ensure the force stay withing its £338m budget.
At the time he said: "We'll need to work smarter with the resources we have."
But there is anger that the police are splashing out on the luxury of chilled water on tap.
A 19 litre container of bottled water costs at least £5.
Yesterday, Cllr Ann Hines, from West Derby, said: "Tax-payers are not going to be pleased about this after Merseyside Police said they needed more council tax money.
"I don't see the need for the luxury of chilled water dispensers. Why can't they just drink tap water as they must always have done?
"I drink tap water every day and there is nothing at all wrong with it."
Barry Clarke, of the national tap-water governing body Water UK, added: "Tap water is perfectly safe for drinking. It is of the highest quality it has ever been in this country.
"It is a much cheaper alternative than spending lots of money on bottled water."
A spokeswoman for Merseyside Police said the force was inviting companies to make them the best offer.
She added: "We are looking at the most cost effective options and that's why we're inviting companies to come to us with offers.
"The money for these provisions does not come out of the policing budget and will not affect money spent on fighting crime in the region."