‘Smoke and mirrors’

2014-06-19 00:00

THE uMmgungundlovu District Municipality stands accused of charging Howick residents up to 70% more on their water bills as a “money-making scheme”.

Residents of Hilton, Rosetta and Nottingham Road are joining them in their fight to sort out their billing problems.

A meeting organised by the Umgeni Ratepayers Association (URA) in Howick yesterday saw senior citizens’ civic action at work. Residents not only highlighted their billing woes, but retired accountant Alan Norman analysed the uMngeni municipal budget and found it wanting.

Municipal representatives at the meeting asked for, and were given, a month to sort out billing queries. However, the association would look at other options to tackle the problem if it was not satisfactorily resolved.

Russell Barnes, editor of community newspaper the Midlands Herald, said he had analysed his and other bills and found that they do not reflect the readings taken by residents. He said the figures in the bills are much higher and efforts to adjust these are stonewalled. Barnes said that higher water readings placed residents in higher bands for higher rates, meaning they were being fleeced twice. In addition, he and others complained of erratic estimates and that the problem of faulty and underground meters had still not been addressed.

Umgungundlovu income manager Sibongile Khumalo said the municipality was aware of the problems and was working to rectify them. “Give us a chance to address all these queries,” she appealed.

Norman presented his analysis of the “smoke and mirrors” uMngeni budget for 2014/2015, saying that rates and tariffs were increasing to unaffordable levels. However, insufficient money was being spent on repairs and the town’s infrastructure was falling apart.

“I believe that the repairs budget is being used to cushion the cash flow crisis for not collecting outstanding debt.

“When it come to fixing potholes, year after year we see the potholes filled with tar, but three weeks later the tar pops out. Surely this is not the right technology and we are wasting our money,” said Norman, adding that the biggest industry in Howick was the retirement sector — it was the biggest employer, biggest source of rates and the biggest contributor to the local economy.

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