A BATTLE is looming between the Amathole District Municipality (ADM) and its ratepayers over massive water tariff increases that have left domestic households and businesses reeling.
Water tariffs for metered water supplied to all domestic households were last year increased by between 140% and 184%, says Morgan Bay resident Ray Brown – making ADM supplied water the most expensive in the country by far.
Many living in the ADM’s jurisdiction now pay over 60% more for their water than people living in big cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Brown says Johannesburg and Cape Town follow the Department of Water Affairs guidelines for tariffs and supply the first six kilolitres of water free of charge.
By contrast, the ADM charges metered households R71.76 for the first six kilolitres. An average household consumption of 20kl of water a month will now cost ADM households some R398 while Johannesburg and Cape Town households will pay R142 and R145 respectively for the same amount of water.
Water tariffs for business and commercial use have increased by between 65% and 390%.
“The large increase is aimed solely at metered consumption,” said Brown. Un-metered consumers – which make up the majority – will have to pay a flat rate of just R26.75 per month, which is a mere six percent increase on the previous year.
Although the ADM had not commented at the time of going to press, it says in its 2012/2013 Medium Term Revenue Forecast (Mtref) that its “stepped tariff approach” was intended to penalise high volume water users.
However, the tariff increases are huge across the board and have left both high and low volume domestic users fuming. Metered residential domestic users who use zero to six kilolitres will pay R11.96/kl – an increase of 184% on the R4.21/kl they paid in the previous financial year.
Those who use 16-25kl per month pay R19.93/kl, 137% more than the R8.42/kl they paid previously.
Mega-users who use more than 500kl per month will pay a whopping R27.90/kl – which is 140% more than the R11.64/kl they paid in the previous year.
Brown said the increases are unconscionable, immoral, unconstitutional and probably illegal.
“They are also particularly punitive to those of us who actually do pay for our water.”
But people like Brown and those belonging to the Chintsa East Residents and Ratepayers Association (Cerpa) are fighting back. Cerpa has written to the Public Protector in Bhisho and is currently seeking a face-to-face meeting with the PP, says Cerpa’s Cavil Freitag.
Cerpa has also sent an attorney’s letter to the ADM declaring itself to be in dispute with the municipality over the exorbitant tariff increases.
“The truth is that people are extremely unhappy with the way ADM handles its affairs. They cannot justify these increases. The people that do pay are being punished by having to pay more and yet those with illegal water connections are simply allowed to carry on.”
And while metered users are left reeling by the massive increases, the ADM admits its water distribution losses are huge with large numbers of erven remaining un-metered.
It estimates its “non-revenue water” to vary between 65% to 85% of the total water provided to users. Un-metered connections and communal standpipes contribute to this.
To make matters worse the ADM admits in its 2011/2012 annual report that at the end of the last financial year that debtors amounting to R428-million had been disclosed and R257-million was written off as bad debt. It’s actual revenue collection rate as of June last year was just 37%.
In a shocking admission, the ADM says in its Mtref that the huge costs associated with providing water and other services to the community had resulted in tariff increases that “may soon render municipal services financially unaffordable to the consumer and unsustainable by the municipality”.
But even with these massive increases, the ADM says that what it bills the consumer is not cost reflective and the water is therefore still “heavily subsidised by equitable share”.