Water shock for PMB

2012-03-23 00:00

MSUNDUZI residents face a shocking 22% water tariff hike if a draft budget by the municipality’s executive committee is passed by council.

This is almost three times last year’s water increase, which was eight percent.

The water hike will be combined with a proposed 16% increase in electricity costs and a seven percent rates increase, while sewerage and refuse costs are expected to go up by seven and five percent respectively.

The draft will be put out for consulation before it is adopted.

Yesterday the city’s civic organisations questioned the affordability and sustainability of the proposed hikes. They accused the municipality of negating the concession President Jacob Zuma had received from Eskom on the electricity tariff increases.

The power utility lowered its tariff increases after Zuma had appealed to it to review its prices in support of economic growth and job creation.

The Msunduzi Rates Forum (MRF) said it seemed as if the municipality wished to offset the decrease in electricity tariffs by increasing the tariff on water.

MRF vice president Ronnie George asked how consumers were expected to survive given price increases for fuel and food, among others.

Msunduzi Municipality manager Mxolisi Nkosi said the proposed water tariff increase took into account a 17,5% increase in water charges from Umgeni Water, the city’s bulk water supplier. The additional 4,5% took into consideration the delivery of services, maintenance of infrastructure and provision for losses.

He said that in drawing up the budget the city had to ensure that it did not run at a loss to guarantee the municipality’s sustainability.

Former Msunduzi executive committee (Exco) member Mark Steele said that for a number of years Msunduzi had been passing lower tariffs than Umgeni Water. This meant that no profits were being generated from the water account to fix the ageing infrastructure.

“It seems to me they want to catch up on the years of underspending in one go,” he said.

Steele said the tariff increase suggested that once more the payers were being punished. “What is happening to those who illegally syphon water or who are not repairing their leaks?” he asked.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business chief executive Melanie Veness said most businesses would be comfortable with the 16% electricity increase.

“However, most businesses are still fighting to regain the incentives that they were receiving from the municipality before it was placed under administration.

“The proposed increase in water is outrageous and we would like to know the reason for such an increase,” Veness added.

Democratic Alliance caucus leader Bill Lambert said: “I think that we must appreciate that this is the very first draft budget, which is still going to go to various stakeholders for their input, including the ward committees and the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.”

He said as it stood it was unacceptable to have such a steep increase in water tariffs. “The residents would say that it is the municipality’s fault that the council has not replaced ageing infrastructure,” he said.

Inkatha Freedom Party caucus leader Dolo Zondi said water and electricity increases often had a negative impact on the poorest of the poor because of the high levels of unemployment in the city.

Zondi stressed the need to find alternatives to save money, because the municipality must not be seen to be penalising residents for its own negligence.

Council speaker Babu Baijoo said the proposed increases were only a recommendation from Exco.

It would only become a draft budget when council adopted it on March 28, he said.

Once approved the draft budget would be put out for public consultation. Then ratepayers’ and residents’ associations and civic organisations could make their comments. The final budget must be approved by the council 30 days before the start of the financial year, on July 31.

Msunduzi Mayor Chris Ndlela said: “This is what consultation is all about in order that we are able to play a balancing act.”

WHAT about the poor, asks the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa).

The organisation has been engaged in a campaign for the affordability of basic municipal services for the poor.

For Pacsa’s Julie Smith the proposed water tariffs are condemning even more households to abject poverty.

She said a household with four members consuming 5,3 kilolitres a month would be expected to pay R311,20 for water and sanitation if the proposed tariff increases are passed.

A household with five members consuming 17,9 kilolitres would be expected to pay R350,77.

For households among the 81 381 in Msunduzi living on less than R1 600 per month and having four members, the increases would mean they would be spending 19% of their income on water and sanitation.

A five-member household would be spending 22% of its income.

But, Smith pointed out, of the 81 381 households, 61 008 earned less than R800 a month, and of those, 28 500 earned nothing.

Last year Pacsa took its battle to the Department of Water Affairs (DWA).

It met officials of the department who in turn met the municipality.

Yesteday DWA official Ridah Ramorula confirmed that she had met Pacsa and noted that its concerns were about poorly structured tariffs and problems of affordability.

She later met the municipality and is compiling a report that will give recommendations on a way forward. — Witness Reporter.

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