IT IS the election that will affect the lives of thousands of people across Hampshire.
On May 2, people will head to the polling stations to vote in the county council elections.
Voters will be deciding who should control the authority that provides vital services – including schools, roads, social services, museums and libraries.
Four years ago the Conservative group strengthened their grip – gaining six seats in the process.
And council leader Ken Thornber, 80, the current leader, is standing again but has pledged to step down as head of his party after 15 years.
If elected, the councillors will be responsible for a number of key issues across a huge area stretching from Ringwood in the west to Emsworth in the east.
But council bosses will be hoping for a bigger turnout than in 2009.
Turnout was considerably lower across the county than in 2005, although that coincided with the 2005 General Election.
In 2009 in Totton North, 32.51 per cent of the electorate turned out compared to 62.13 per cent in 2005.
It was a similar story in Romsey Town. Just 47.66 per cent of the electorate voted – down from 70.67 per cent in 2005.
In Winchester a key issue will be schools, with the Tories defending allegations of insufficiently preparing for the rising numbers of children.
The county is proposing a controversial new super-school in Fulflood which will be a big issue in the Winchester Westgate division.
Whoever is voted to represent the Romsey and Test Valley areas will oversee efforts to improve pedestrian safety.
Romsey and Test Valley has been plagued with poor pavements, and it was revealed nearly £200,000 in compensation was paid out between 2007 and 2012 to fall victims.
Cllr Mel Kendal, Cabinet spokesman for the environment, said the authority had earmarked £520,000 for improving footways in the Test Valley between 2011 and 2013 – with £155,000 going to Romsey-based schemes.
The county council has also joined forces with Test Valley Borough Council to launch the Romsey Future project, which aims to install shared road surfaces in Market Place, Bell Street and Church Street.
Housing is a major issue in Eastleigh – in particular homes being built in Hedge End. Up to 1,000 new homes were due at Woodhouse Lane, in Hedge End, as part of an Eastleigh Borough Council development.
Second place But earlier this year the plans derailed after the county council, which owns the land, said it would not release it for housing, informing the Eastleigh authority the land was not available a year previously.
Eyes will also be cast on how votes will go in Eastleigh after UKIP’s surprising second place in the Parliamentary by-election in February.
UKIP candidates have been named in the Eastleigh East, Eastleigh West, and Botley and Hedge End divisions.
Road safety in the New Forest has been a major issue for Hampshire County Council.
Last October it was announced thousands of pounds was being spent at an accident blackspot after a cycle safety campaigner was killed.
The council pledged to spend cash on road markings at Ipley Crossroads after former university lecturer Mark Brummell died in a collision with a car.
Education is another key part of county council responsibility.
It was revealed in January how the county council was considering proposals for a second primary school in Whiteley near Fareham.
The school was proposed by the Portsmouth and Winchester Diocese and land owned by the county council was identified as a possible temporary site.
It was prompted by Winchester City Council’s plan to bring forward the north Whiteley development area for housing over the next few years.
Anyone wanting to have their say on how the county is run needs to have been on the electoral register by Wednesday, April 17.
Voters will need to be registered with their local borough or district council.
Those wanting to cast their vote by post need to send their application to district councils by April 17, and proxy vote applications by April 24.
When does the election take place?
Why is it important?
The county council elections decide who should control services, from schools to roads, social services to museums and libraries. They will also control a £1.8 billion budget.
Can I vote if I live in Southampton?
No. Southampton is part of a unitary authority and has its own city council elections. People living in districts surrounding the city can vote.
How many candidates are there?
There are 354 candidates vying for 78 seats in 75 divisions. Out of that total, three divisions elect two councillors. They are Fareham Town, Gosport (Leesland and Town) and Bedhampton and Leigh Park.
What happened in 2009?
The Conservative group held on to power, gaining six seats in the process.
How can I vote?
You will need to be registered on the electoral register by April 17.
What districts make up the county council boundary?
Eleven – Basingstoke and Deane, East Hampshire, Eastleigh, Fareham, Gosport, Hart, Havant, New Forest, Rushmoor, Test Valley, and Winchester.
Are there elections in other areas?
No, the elections are just for Hampshire County Council.