The scale of cuts to public services will be both "large and challenging", a meeting in Surrey heard on Thursday.
Dr Andrew Povey said: "Everything that we do in its basic form is a statutory duty... but it's a question of how far along the path your travel."
The Surrey County Council leader was joined by police leaders, NHS staff and representatives from voluntary organisations in the public forum.
The two-hour debate took place at Salesian School in Chertsey.
"You can do the absolute basic statutory minimum, or you can do something more. I think that's where the debate will be about some of the services," Dr Povey said.
"Tough choices will have to be taken by all of us in the public sector over the next few years."
Mark Rowley, Chief Constable of Surrey Police, was asked about police cuts.
He replied: "We are the only force in the country still recruiting front line officers. We are trying to run the force on a leaner basis."