Have you been caught out with city’s hidden costs?

2012-09-03 00:00

MSUNDUZI residents have been caught unawares by what some describe as hidden costs in their latest municipal bills.

Residents were shocked to find they were being asked for more than the expected seven percent tariff increase on rates. In addition, there was a new amount on their water bills — a R15 basic water charge.

However, totally blindsided were the poor and indigent, whose bills show that their accounts had soared by over 300%. No one had bothered to tell them that the benefits they received under the “lifeline system” had been scrapped. Under the policy, they received benefits including some free water and electricity, and did not have to pay for certain services.

They now have to pay their bills in full until they fill in new forms to find out whether they qualify to benefit from the new indigent policy.

Disgruntled ratepayers who called The Witness felt they had been misled by the municipality.

Krishnan Naidoo said his rates bill had gone up by 20% instead of by seven percent. Naidoo then got relatives to calculate their rates increases and the amounts varied from 20 to 33% and more. Naidoo’s complaint reflected that of many other readers.

Indigent residents who previously received exemptions under the lifeline system found their bills had gone up by more than 300%.

Previously they paid an average of R260 a month on utility bills. They were now being asked to pay R830 and more. Adding to their woes was confusion over who qualified to benefit from the new indigent policy.

Staff at the city’s billing office told people that the new policy is based on property values alone, and not on income.

They told them they did not qualify for assistance if they lived in a house valued at R150 000 or more.

Pensioners said their municpal bills of R800 were more than half their pensions.

Residents said their frustrations were compounded by a lack of meter reading, not receiving accounts, incomplete bills sent by SMS and poor customer service at the billing office.

A meeting with municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi made clear that

adjustments had been made to the city’s budget on the instruction of the National Treasury, after the public participation process.

Rates increases of more than seven percent had resulted from rebates offered to residents being decreased because of the treasury’s intervention.

According to Nkosi, full details on the new billing regimen are laid out in the municipality’s Annual Budget document, which is available at all municpal offices and in libraries.

The National Treasury said that the rates exemption of R150 000 offered to ratepayers was far too generous and did not make sense compared to other bigger cities, said Nkosi.

The municipality had accordingly reduced the rebate from R150 000 to R100 000.

Nkosi said the R15 basic charge on residential water usage and R25 for businesses was introduced on the Treasury’s recommendation.

This was to bring Msunduzi in line with other municipalities that charged the fee.

He said the Treasury had noted that in Msunduzi, business was being subsidised by residential consumption of water.

Nkosi said the indigent policy was not based on the value of a property alone, but also on income levels. He said a person could live in a mansion and still qualify to benefit from the indigent policy, provided that the joint family income was not more than two social grants (R1200 x 2 = R2 400) and they did not have any other income.

However, Nkosi acknowledged there needed to be better communication between residents and the municipality, and said this was an area receiving attention.

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