Water rates U-turn

2013-10-28 00:00

AN outcry over uMgungundlovu district’s high water tariffs has led to the municipality giving in to protesting residents and reviewing its latest tariff increases.

A full council meeting on Friday decided that the tariff increase would be capped at 11%. Municipal manager Sibusiso Khuzwayo conceded that it was not the tariff hike that had led to the outcry, but the fact that the band structures were changed and merged, giving people far higher increases than were intended. Khuzwayo said that as a result of the introduction of the new band structure there were “unintended consequences”. The impact was that residents ended up with much higher increases — in some instances as high as 30%. Council therefore decided to revert to the old structures.

The uMngeni Ratepayers’ Association (URA) had carried out extensive calculations and claimed that the tariffs had gone up by as much as 295%. Residents affected were from six municipalities, whose water affairs are managed by the district. They are Impendle, Mkhambathini, Mpofana, Richmond, uMngeni and uMshwathi.

While residents can look forward to relief in their forthcoming bills, they seem stuck with paying the charges on their previous bills. Khuzwayo said the previous charges stand because they were gazetted. The URA’s Tim Lindsay-White and Rorie Anderson said yesterday that failure to credit users for the amounts overcharged above the revised increases, means that water users will still have to bear the excessive burden for at least half a year. “The refusal to compensate users for what they clearly admit to as a mistake, the excessive consequences of which we are told were not intended, is incomprehensible. The district municipality is inviting a rash of angry disputes,” the URA said.

The debate in the council chamber on Friday reflected the tightrope that municipalities have to walk as they aim to balance getting enough revenue to upgrade and expand infrastructure while at the same time keeping tariffs affordable. Councillors reviewed four scenarios. They accepted scenario D — an 11% increase and a return to the old band structure. Khuzwayo said this would cause a R7 million financial knock to the district budget but one that they calculated they can absorb. He said customers who are consuming less, using up to 25 kilolitres of water, will benefit from this scenario because they will be charged at a lower band rate.

The scenarios that were rejected were A: to go back and implement the 2012/13 increases. Council said this would have severe service delivery financial implications — a knock of R35 million to the municipal budget that would not be sustainable. Scenario B recommended a lower tariff increase of 7,50 to 8%, which was also rejected as not being sustainable. Scenario C was that council bite the bullet, ignore the concerns of the public and continue with the new tariff structure as if nothing had happened. This was rejected outright given the widespread levels of protest by residents.

Democratic Alliance (DA) councillor Rodger Ashe urged the municipality to improve its billing and revenue collection systems and to fix leaking pipes. He said the extra income that the municipality would receive would mean that it could keep its tariffs lower and more affordable in future.

The tariff review has led to the DA and the URA both claiming that it was their doing that led to the exposure of the municipality’s miscalculations.

Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee said that in the end it was about all parties in council heeding the call from residents from different forums and across the socio-economic divide and doing something about it.

There will be a 21-day consultation period where the new tariff structure will be advertised for public comment.

The budget adjustments will be carried out in January during the mid-year budget review.

water system collapsing

• Last year the UMDM suffered a loss of about R40 million through water theft and water losses due to dilapidated infrastructure.

• A UMDM water service development plan revealed that the district municipality needed approximately R1,79 billion to upgrade and expand its water infrastructure.

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