COUNCIL taxpayers in Taunton Deane could be forced to find £5.7million to bail out another "bankrupt" council, with dozens of jobs lost and depleted services, it is feared.

Taunton Deane Borough Council is considering a full political and economic merger with hard-up West Somerset District Council.

The two authorities currently run services under a joint management arrangement, but the proposal would see them become one organisation within 18 months.

If the move goes ahead, the Deane House would have to pump £5.7million of taxpayers' money into the initiative, while West Somerset would be charged £1.1million.

A large chunk of that would go on 80 redundancies, with 64 likely to be in Taunton, based on the split of bills under the current arrangement.

The changes would bring savings of £50,000 in the first year for the Conservative-led Deane.

But another proposal on the table, which would see the two councils divorce completely, would save the Taunton-based authority more than ten times that amount over the same period, according to a report seen by the Gazette.

A third option of maintaining the status quo is also being considered.

The LibDem opposition, which claims the current set up between the two councils was enforced as West Somerset is "bankrupt", is likely to oppose a merger - leader Cllr Simon Coles said: "I can't see the benefit for the people we represent."

His colleague Cllr Jefferson Horsley said: "We'll be seeking a referendum if this flawed shotgun wedding is considered. It would be another nail in the local government coffin."

The proposals are going to Taunton Deane's scrutiny committee on July 11, with a decision expected at full council 15 days later.

A spokeswoman for the two councils said they have shared staff and services since 2013 and are exploring "possible options for the future".

She added: "Both councils, like many across the country, are facing financial challenges and how these can be addressed.

"The business case aims to set the scene for new and more streamlined ways of working that would deliver savings.

"The business case is being prepared and, once concluded in early July, it will be considered by elected members of both authorities.

"It will be up to those elected members, through the democratic process, to choose which option to pursue later this summer."

She said the options include: *new ways of working together, with the councils remaining "separate, democratically independent authorities"; *a merger, with a single sovereign council for both area, with one set of councillors serving the entire area; *a total separation of the two councils.