CASH-strapped Dorset fire chiefs are asking council tax payers for help to safeguard future frontline services.

Leaflets are being distributed asking if residents will support, in principle, a council tax increase of either 1-3 per cent, 3-6 per cent or 6-10 per cent.

Dorset Fire and Rescue Service, which operates 26 fire stations with 40 engines, is one of the worst funded services, per capita, in the UK.

Although the service avoided the feared large cut in government grant last year, Whitehall has always maintained the majority of earmarked UK fire services savings will be back-ended to 2013/14 and 2014/15.

This means Dorset could find itself with a budget shortfall of more than £500,000 in three years time.

Many firefighters fear Dorset will struggle to maintain its current level of service if its £29.3 million budget is chipped away any more.

Of more than 1,000 Dorset residents, who took part in the same survey last year, 85 per cent of them backed an increase in council tax.

On the latest survey, county fire chief Darran Gunter said: “Dorset Fire and Rescue Service receives 18 per cent less than the national average in government funding per head of population and receives on of the lowest levels of funding in the country.

“Before and since the government announced their spending plans, Dorset Fire and Rescue Service was already looking at ways to make savings that would not adversely affect frontline service.

“We are using this and last year’s residents’ surveys to assess what our residents expect from us and their opinion on a small rise in council tax in order to continue with the level of service we provide them.”

Dorset Fire Authority chairman Cllr Rebecca Knox said the survey, distributed to people who have a reason to use the service and available online, will last until the end of the year.

She added: “Members and I agree that one way in which Dorset Fire and Rescue Service can reduce the impact of any reduction in government grant is to consult with its communities and ensure the level of council tax maintains the current standard of service delivery.”