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Friday Aug 10, 2012

Joburg promises to sort out your account in 30 days

Joburg residents' new billing complaints will be resolved within 30 days. This is the city's latest promise to residents who have had to put up with inflated bills, unnecessary cut-offs and a council struggling to fix the problem.

But yesterday city manager Trevor Fowler said progress had been made in resolving the billing crisis since the establishment of its Revenue Roadmap and that all but 2 600 complicated problems out of almost 200 000 logged by the end of last year had been resolved.

About 21 000 recent complaints, logged from November last year when the plan was announced, are still outstanding. The city receives an average of about 15 000 new queries a month, which will be resolved within a 30-day period, he said.

The figures, however, are not contained in any formal updated report or document but were announced verbally by Fowler.

Geoff Makhubo, member of the mayoral committee responsible for finance, said the qual-

Jity of revenue collection had improved, and council customers were showing a greater willingness to pay for water, power, waste removal and other services "because of a higher level of confidence in the integrity of the bills they receive".

Makhubo said revenue for the financial year ending June was above budget at R33.1bn and expenditure was within budget at R32.7bn.

He said yet another datacleaning operation for the revenue department was to be conducted in the next two months to sort out billing problems.

Council officials have announced new data revenue clean-ups every time they migrate to new computer systems. In the latest migration to the SAPS system, the city assured residents that incorrect billing was being addressed.

Commenting on why some residents suddenly find themselves with R156 charges for pre-termination notices for accounts in credit, paid on time or just a few days late, Fowler said this was because credit control processes were being tightened up.

"Almost 50 percent of people who have bills in the city don't pay their bills within 30 days," said Fowler, and, although the pre-termination letters were not new, the city had decided to start issuing them five days after due date.

He could not explain why residents who were in credit were receiving them and he admitted the fact that the due date changes every month was a reason for people paying late.

Makhubo said the city's financial performance continues to improve, with revenue collection surpassing budgeted figures and the cash balance exceeding R2 billion.

"Figures for the period ending June 2012 confirm that its finances are exceptionally well managed in a period when public sector budgets worldwide are under severe strain. It also contradicts the misguided claims by opposition parties that the city's budget is under strain or even that the city is bankrupt, he said.

"This should give renewed confidence to residents and investors in the city about the administration's ability to manage the finances.

"This further shows we are meeting the objectives set out in our roadmap for revenue enhancement," he said.

While cash flow has improved, the debt owed to the city is also increasing.

Officials said that by the end of June the city was owed R12.4bn in debt up to 120 days, compared to R10.9bn the year before. The city is owed R15.2bn, including debt that is older than 120 days.

  • Frustrated residents tell a different story

    Not all Joburg residents agree that billing problems are being resolved. The Star's Metrowatch is inundated daily with e-mails, telephone calls and faxes from aggrieved residents who are receiving massive bills but are unable to sort them out.

    Many claim they are told their problems have been resolved, when, in fact, they have not.

    Luizet Ruzow says the City of Joburg has closed her complaint / query number without any resolution at all. "It has now been 14 months since the property was registered in my name, and I still don't have an account. Every single time I phone they say they will escalate it and I must phone back in three weeks. Their lack of service and response (and their so-called supervisor has not once in the last year been available to speak to me) is getting quite ridiculous now as it has been a year and two months without any resolution at all, and I really don't know what to do anymore as it is pointless to phone and get the same noncommittal answer month after month after month, for a simple and easy query.

    Ann Araujo says: "My tenant and I have both been charged for electricity. I've been querying this since August 2010. I am now trying to finalise transfer on my property and can't get an answer from anyone. I've made literally hundreds of phone calls."

    Vanessa Connellan says she has now reached a dead end. "I have been patiently visiting the customer centres in Randburg and Sandton for more than two years in an attempt to have my incorrect accounts reconciled, credits refunded and accounts closed. I have suffered my share of verbal abuse from council consultants threatening to throw my paperwork in the dustbin, sending me to the back of the queue for jumping the queue when I hadn't and accusing me of treating them like they were sleeping on the job!"

    Mary Brodie has been trying since August 2009 to get an electricity reading after her meter box burnt down.

    "I have visited the council offices in Randburg about 20 timesÂ… Somehow they do not seen to be able to link up the new meter with the account."

    The Star

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