A STAY of execution for the Wee County's only public swimming pool, a reprieve for the CAB, the slashing of the Ranger Service and a four per cent council tax increase were all part of Clackmannanshire Council's budget for 2019-20, agreed last week.

With £125.5million to play with in the revenue budget, elected members set out their priorities amid mounting pressures and managed to avoid implementing some officer-proposed cuts, which caused a stir around Clackmannanshire in the past weeks.

The budget approved last Wednesday, March 6, confirmed that Fishcross and Coalsnaughton primary schools will remain open in the coming year.

A four per cent rise in council tax was also agreed as part of a Conservative amendment, with all three main parties initially looking to set the levy at different rates.

The Leisure Bowl, where a combined around 90 jobs were at risk along with facilities that keep locals active, will see its contract revised, but should remain open after alternative options were successfully explored with operator Mike Mulraney.

The amended agreement saves the council £60,000 in the coming financial year, which is understood to be coming from management efficiencies.

However, it has been highlighted that the Leisure Bowl building is coming to the end of its natural lifespan after more than 30 years and the council has already committed to developing a long-term leisure strategy for the area.

A redesign of "sustainability functions to focus on statutory responsibilities" will alter the Ranger Service, it is understood, to save £20,000 next year.

Fears had previously been raised by a former ranger that current employees may be forced behind the desk and local children could miss out on outdoor learning opportunities as a result.

Fresh cuts and savings of £4.8m were also agreed to deal with the budget gap.

Much of this includes reductions through "management efficiencies", but also includes a cut to the secondary school supply budget, worth £250,000, and "revised primary school class configurations", saving £410,000 over two years.

Other measures focus on collaborative working with other neighbouring councils, with a view that the Wee County could deliver services.

The collaborative arrangement with Stirling counterparts will be further developed for trading standards and the provision of environmental health.

Partnership working will also be developed for waste and roads contract services, with £233,000 expected to be saved over two years on the longer term.

To generate more money, the council will introduce a permit scheme for household garden waste collection while also recovering full costs relating to commercial waste.

A dedicated funding officer will also be put in place to maximise income generation through grants aimed at bolstering both community groups and the local authority itself.

While the council has already transferred stewardship of some Wee County town halls and venues into community hands, it will further support groups running facilities at Clackmannan, Devonvale and Coalsnaughton with £12,800.

The combined funding for the third sector in the budget amounts to around £950,000.

In moving the budget, SNP council leader Councillor Ellen Forson explained it was the "most difficult budget" she had worked on in her years at the local authority.

She thanked council officers and colleagues from all corners of the chamber for their work, as well as the public for the feedback that has helped guide the "rollercoaster process".

Originally, the SNP administration had looked to increase the tax by 4.79 per cent to make sure vital services are supported, saying feedback from communities showed people would rather pay a little more to see essentials protected.

Labour's leader Councillor Dave Clark submitted an amendment on Monday, March 4, and sought to set the levy at 3.5 per cent instead, later saying: "Our amendment was designed to be gentle with our population after the ravages of cuts year on year.

"It also had a heart for struggling communities and the poor in our area."

His move also called for other changes including extra funding for certain local charities and more money for school uniform grants, but ultimately it did not receive cross-party support.

However, the decider came in the form of a late amendment from Conservative leader Bill Mason, understood to have been submitted as late as the morning of the meeting, which received the administration's support.

There was controversy over whether a paper submitted past deadline should appear on the agenda in the first place and a vote took place to allow it as the meeting got underway.

Labour representatives, who ultimately voted against the budget as their own suggestions were not endorsed, appeared frustrated that Provost Tina Murphy would allow the amendment due to "special circumstances", namely the budget being set, their leader Councillor Dave Clark saying he was "perplexed" at the decision.

The four per cent increase, seen as the middle ground by the administration and branded a "reasonable compromise" by Conservative Cllr Martha Benny, will mean the baseline Band D council tax will be £1,266.63 plus water charges, which Scottish Water previously confirmed will increase by 1.6 per cent.