‘Pitbull’: Businesses hire lawyers

2010-11-17 00:00

SMALL business owners are not taking the municipality’s“Operation Pitbull” lying down.

The NowBiteBack campaign was launched early last month after small businesses banded together to challenge what they see as unfair instances of the municipality’s operation to disconnect business consumers found to have illegal electricity connections and to recover money lost that way.

So far 27 small business owners have each contributed R444 to engage legal counsel to challenge the following:

• The municipality’s decision to institute backdated charges on mini circuit- breakers (MCBs) that were fitted incorrectly by their workers in the past;

• The use of heavy-handed tactics against consumers who have been disconnected;

• A clearer definition of what the municipality means by “tampering” with the electricty supply;

• Excessive deposit charges;

• Whether the municipality is allowed to charge commercial rates in a residential zone and whether these charges can be back-dated;

• Interest charges on overdue accounts, especially in light of the new National Credit Act; and

• The municipality’s right to sever existing agreements regarding bulk discounts given to private schools.

Jarrod Hatting of Hatting’s Sausages in Hilton said small business owners are “quite frustrated” because the municipality is now levying backdated charges, which may force many of them out of business.

For instance, he said, his mother was re-zoned from a residential property to a commercial one with no warning and she now has to pay a R40 000 deposit.

He said another company has been billed for a R250 000 deposit and a petition is doing the rounds to challenge the charge.

Hatting said that if nothing is done about this, owners will be forced to take their businesses out of the city.

Msunduzi spokesperson Brian Zuma said the municipality is not trying to push small businesses away from the city and that the deposits charged vary according to the type of service.

“Operation Pitbull is merely correcting the billing system in order to ensure that there is no shortfall between what is being paid to Eskom and Umgeni Water and what is actually being billed,” he said.

Zuma of the MCB charges: “Where a consumer can prove the MCB installed is not what they requested, and consumption indicates accordingly, a settlement can be negotiated.”

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