Lift the levy

Mike Law, Fish Hoek

These days citizens and visitors going walkabout in our fair city may be forgiven for thinking we are missing a beat by not planting rice as a staple crop.

I am referring to the water levy imposed by the City. At the time we were informed that it was a temporary measure relevant to the dry spell.

I recently attended a meeting in Fish Hoek hosted by our local DA councillor, and, when questioned about the levy, she was quick to say that it was never intended to be a temporary tax, and, yes, it is yet another tax.

I am informed that the City has at least one million erven paying local council charges – water, refuse, sewerage etc. Top this up with the water levy and each month you have many millions extra going into the coffers of a City that is attracting the irritation of ratepayers with terms like “money grabbers” being bandied around.

It’s especially irritating when ratepayers and citizens contact the council only to receive no confirmation that the communication has been logged.

I was advised to not send letters via the post office. “Use emails,” they say. Well, they ignore those too.

What can we, the little people, do? Council seems to be adept at collecting taxes and fees for services rendered, but under no circumstances should one expect a reply.

When are we going to be informed as to what is being done with the millions paid under the “water levy” tax? Where is it going?

Our dams are overflowing, everywhere you look there’s water, but still we have a water levy. It’s time for council to take us into their confidence. They sure take our money.

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for water and waste, responds:

The City does not budget for a profit from the sale of water and seeks to keep costs of service delivery as low as possible. Tariffs are set based on projected consumption trends, so that the income received covers the cost of providing the service.

This service includes maintaining a 11 500km water network, 9 500km sewer infrastructure, 5 600km stormwater pipelines, 490 waste water pump stations, 23 waste water treatment works and 180 reservoirs.

Although a temporary drought levy linked to property value was proposed at one point, this was never approved for implementation.

The drought subsequently revealed itself to be the worst on record, indicating that climate change was likely affecting our rainfall and that suppressed consumption was likely to be a pattern going forward. As such, to stabilise revenue streams under suppressed consumption, the idea of a fixed charge for water and sanitation was revisited. This time the charge was proposed to be permanent due to greater awareness of the threat posed by climate change, but instead of linking to property value, the charge was linked to potential water demand on the property (i.e. the diameter of the supply pipe) as this was considered to be a fairer option.

Please note this is not an additional charge but is calibrated to collect the revenue that was previously collected via consumptive tariffs, which disappeared when residents reduced their consumption.

Thus the fixed charge comprises part of the department’s projections of costs to deliver the service, so the belief that the fixed charge has been generating profits over and above the cost of delivering the service, is based on a misunderstanding of how tariffs and the department’s budget are designed.

Stable revenue streams are very important to ensure effective operation and maintenance of the system so it can continue to serve us reliably for generations to come. The cost of maintaining infrastructure does not go up or down in proportion to water use. The consequences of failing to maintain infrastructure effectively due to insufficient revenue collection are clearly demonstrated in our national electricity sector.

In addition, the resident needs to please provide details of the emails he is referring to, to follow up and advise accordingly.