Ratepayers put up a fight against City tariff hikes

EThekwini Municipality mayor Mxolisi Kaunda spoke with various ratepayer associations regarding the tariff increases. The meeting took place at the Durban Exhibition Centre on Monday. | Supplied

EThekwini Municipality mayor Mxolisi Kaunda spoke with various ratepayer associations regarding the tariff increases. The meeting took place at the Durban Exhibition Centre on Monday. | Supplied

Published Apr 23, 2024


Durban — Various ratepayers associations gathered in Durban on Monday to continue addressing the increased tariffs proposed by the eThekwini Municipality as they believed the lack of service delivery did not merit them.

Last month, the municipality proposed a 14.9% increase in water, and 14% in electricity during its Integrated Development Plan (IDP) draft budget for the 2024/25 financial year. Since then, the ratepayers associations have held meetings to address the matter.

Earlier this month, the eThekwini Ratepayers and Residents Association (ERRA) submitted a petition with more than 11 200 signatures to the City. Through the City’s acknowledgement, there was hope for a decrease, they said.

ERRA president Ish Praladh asked the City to stall the hikes until service delivery was 100% and the billing system was sorted. He also said they should stop threatening residents with cutting off services.

Bluff Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association (BRRA) vice-chairperson Allison Schoeman said its objections stem from several critical issues related to the municipality's approach to budgeting and fiscal management, which the association believed failed to meet the required standards of the Municipal Finance Management Act (Sections 24 and 25) and Constitution.

“We object to the exclusion of the ratepayers' associations in the initial stages of the budget formulation process.

“The Constitution mandates public participation in municipal governance, ensuring that all stakeholders, including ratepayers’ associations, are involved from the outset of the budgeting process to provide meaningful input based on the actual experiences and the needs of community members,” Schoeman said.

“Unfortunately, our involvement has been relegated to the final stages, serving merely as procedural compliance rather than a genuine opportunity for input.

“This practice must be revised to align with the constitutional requirement for participative governance,” Schoeman added.

On municipal leadership and fiscal responsibility, she said in light of the ongoing economic hardships, including stagnant wages and high rates of unemployment exacerbated by failing municipal infrastructure, they urged municipal leaders and officials to lead by example.

Schoeman said: “They must consider salary reductions or freeze posts for senior officials to help mitigate the budget deficit, rather than imposing further financial burdens on the already strained ratepayers of eThekwini.”

On the prioritisation of expenditure, the ratepayers proposed that any new projects lacking secured funding should be deferred.

“The municipality must prioritise the maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure to support local businesses and ensure they can continue to contribute to the City's revenue.

“Embarking on new projects without adequate funding not only strains the City's finances but also contradicts the principles of a sustainable budget as outlined by municipal financial management laws,” Schoeman added.

Regarding the assessment of financial impact, Schoeman said the lack of a localised financial impact assessment by the National Treasury significantly hampers the relevance and efficacy of its recommendations to municipalities.

She said the BRRA advocates for a revision of this process to include comprehensive financial assessments within the communities of each municipality, ensuring that any advice given is specifically tailored to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local populace.

“This approach would replace the current generalised methodology, which fails to consider specific local challenges like prolonged infrastructure disrepair and its economic consequences in the Bluff community.

“This critical oversight in the assessment process comprises the reasonableness and sustainability of the proposed municipal budget,” she said.

To address these concerns, they proposed the following:

¡ Enhanced public participation: Implement structured engagement forums that involve all stakeholders from the preliminary stages of the budget process.

¡ Rigorous impact assessments: Conduct detailed impact assessments that consider local socio-economic conditions before finalising the budget.

¡ Spending prioritisation: Focus on critical infrastructure repairs and maintenance to ensure economic stability and growth.

¡ Alternative funding: Explore alternative funding mechanisms such as public-private partnerships or municipal bonds to finance necessary projects without overburdening ratepayers.

Schoeman urged the City to consider the ratepayers’ points and engage with the associations in a constructive dialogue aimed at achieving a budget truly reflective of communities’ needs.

Ward 34 Ratepayers and Residents Association chairperson Andrew Akkers opposed the increase due to service issues, including by-laws, sewerage systems, parks, infrastructure and erratic billing.

“By-laws do not seem to be uniformly enforced by the metro police, we have drinking in public outside most bottle stores, illegal hawkers setting up shop on every corner, illegal taxi ranks and staging of heavy motor vehicles on our roads and the metro police turn a blind eye to these digressions.

“Sewers are not attended to, and sewer drains throughout the ward are either blocked or overflowing into residents’ yards, on to the streets, and into storm water drains.

“Although many residents update and upload their water and electricity readings on the municipality app and via the e-Services website, monthly utility billing remains erratic, and ratepayers are billed hugely inflated estimated consumption charges,” he said.

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