HEREFORDSHIRE Council has agreed its council tax levy - but the cost of the foot and mouth crisis poses an unknown threat to its budget.

Council leader Terry James said this week that he did not expect the Government to step forward with financial help for the council, faced with an increased demand for its environmental health and trading standards services.

He said: "We may ask them but I think they'll say animal welfare is part of our responsibility. We receive a grant, although this year it will be a fraction of what we spend."

Herefordshire councillors met on Friday and agreed a Council Tax rise of 9.8 per cent, which would put an extra £66.44 on the average Band D levy, taking it to £743.89. Added to that must be levies made by parish or town councils, the police and, where appropriate, the Malvern Hills Conservators.

The council says the budget will give it an extra £8.5 million, with extra spending earmarked for education and social services in particular.

There is also money set aside to pay back borrowings made to finance the setting up of the unitary authority.

Council leader Terry James said: "Herefordshire Council has historically been a low-spending authority.

"When you look at the national performance indicators it is not, however, a low-performing authority. That, hopefully, gives the general signal that the council is overall offering good value for money."

He added that he believed the council would be looking at a lower increase next year because of the plans made this year.