Has Msunduzi learned a lesson? - Municipality goes gentle on residents for next year

2014-01-31 00:00

MSUNDUZI Municipality has posted moderate tariff increases for the next financial year, signalling some good news for embattled Msunduzi residents.

The municipality also appears bent on consultation and has put out figures even before the public consultation process is due to begin.

In terms of draft proposals, residents can expect electricity to go up by no more than seven percent and most increases in other municipal tariffs, including water, are reflected at 5,4%.

The latest increases contrast sharply with a bruising year in which businesses were hit with massive hikes in some basic charges on which the city only recently back-pedalled.

The municipality’s chief financial officer, Nelisiwe Ngco­bo, confirmed that these figures were being posted prior to publication of the municipality’s draft budget due on March 31.

She said they wanted to give residents an opportunity to comment and viewed the publication of these tariffs as a testing of the waters.

Once the draft budget is posted, there would be a further consultation process for public comment. The final budget will be adopted by council by May 31.

However, for organisations like the Msunduzi Action Committee, the true test of the new budget will be if the public consultation processes are treated seriously by the city.

Organisation convenor Dev Naidoo said that it was all very well inviting comment, but whether council listened to the public’s comment was another story.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) CEO Melanie Veness believed that lessons had been learnt over the last year.

Veness said that businesses were generally pleased that the proposed increases seemed to have been kept pretty much in line with inflation and that the electricity increase had been limited to the national regulator’s recommended tariff hike for municipalities.

“A sensible approach, that is appreciated, especially when considering the recent interest rate hike,” Veness said.

Meanwhile, at yesterday’s full council meeting it was revealed that Msunduzi had a budget deficit of R42 million after it had to adjust its tariff increases down from 10% to seven percent after instructions from the national electricity regulator.

Municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said that they would recoup the money by cutting costs in three categories.

They would get R15 million by not filling staff posts, R2 million by cutting down on material bulk purchases and R25 million from cutting down on other general expenses.

Yesterday’s council meeting revealed that the municipality was exploring other means of generating revenue.

Councillor Thulani Xulu said the municipality got little revenue from long-term lease agreements. Veteran councillor Bill Lambert used the debate to vent his frustration at staff inefficiency.

He said land was sold at Barloworld in 2011 and it was still waiting to be developed.

More than five shops have been standing empty for four years at the council-owned Symons Centre when they could have been rented out.

Lambert said they were eventually advertised for rent and interest was shown, but nothing happened, when last he inquired he was told that “due process had not been followed”.

Lambert said staff not doing their work should be made to shape up or be shipped out.

“We have got to raise the efficiency of the municipality, such as collection of revenue, the sorting out of the refunds and the issuing of rates clearance certificates,” he said.

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