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Thursday Mar 15, 2012

Joburg citizens to pay city's e-tolls

The City of Joburg has not budgeted for e-toll fees and it is highly likely this shortfall in its budget will be paid by residents through increased rates and taxes.

City of Joburg spokesman Gabu Tugwana said the council operates 3 500 vehicles across its various departments, which are managed through a fleet management contract. A further 500 vehicles are also owned by the city through a different process.

This means the city could accumulate just under R2 million a month in toll fees at the capped fee of R550 a month.

Tugwana said that because the city's budget was announced in May - "a month before the end of its financial year in June - the city has therefore not budgeted for the toll fees this year".

E-tolling on 205km of Gauteng's highways will commence on April 30.

Government legislation implies that any budget shortfalls for the city are made up through increases in rates bills.

Lee Cahill, from the Joburg Advocacy Group, said they had been concerned for a long time with the city's draft rates policy, which says rates are a tax.

However, instead of setting set rates increases, they are determined by "quite broad rules", including if the council has any budget shortfalls.

As the council has not budgeted for tolls, there would be a shortfall of millions of rand in the budget , meaning the people of Joburg will not only be paying their own toll fees, but also those of the city.

These are some of the criteria in the rates policy for why rates can be increased:

* the financing of increased operating expenditure in the budget;

* the additional cost of servicing debt included in the council's operating budget; and

* the augmentation of any revenue shortfall

This week, 7 400 Gauteng G-fleet vehicles were registered with e-tags. The bill for the tolls on this fleet of vehicles will be sent to various government departments - in spite of the fact that various departments owe g-fleet R300 million in unpaid lease fees from last year. There is no indication how the added budgetary burden of toll fees, which could amount to as much as R4m a month, will be paid.

The Ekurhuleni and Tshwane municipalities had not replied to The Star's queries, but they also own thousands of vehicles and are possibly in a similar situation to Joburg.

DA MPL Neil Campbell said there was no doubt that the e-tolling costs for metros and municipalities would fall on the shoulders of citizens.

"This payment can come only from three sources: increased rates, increased utilities or increased grants from province or the national government, ie income tax. What is for certain is that John and Jane Public will pay, as they are the only source of funding for all government tiers."

"The lack of foresight in budgeting for the toll costs is not unexpected as no one fully understands the real implications of the tolls at present," he added.

Dr Cliff Johnston from the SA National Consumer Union said the possible increase in rates was just one example of how e-tolling would affect not only road users.

"Our problem is that up to a third of toll fees are going on operating costs. This system is not saving anyone anything."

The Star

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