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Monday May 21, 2018

Tough tariff hikes loom for Durban residents

eThekwini residents are being squeezed dry with steep tariff increases imminent - and only a few days left to comment on proposed hikes in the city's draft budget.

This as household budgets are cracking under the pressure of ever-increasing costs and straight off the back of the April hike in VAT and petrol prices.

The city council is looking towards wrapping up the draft budget for the coming financial year, in which residents will face a 6.84% increase in electricity, and 15% for water, from July 1.

And to make matters worse, energy experts have also sent out a stark warning that the fuel hike early next month could be as much as 70 cents, pushing a litre of petrol to more than R15 a litre.

Final figures for petrol increases are expected to be finalised in the last week of May.

The budget is available from the city's website and is open to comment until Wednesday, May 23.

Residents have been warned that times will be tough in the months ahead, with many families expected to struggle to keep afloat.

"I don't think households are going to cope. We see this more and more. Households can't afford to cut back any more," said Julie Smith, research and advocacy co-ordinator at the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa).

The agency monitors food prices, and other household expenses, across the country.

"Households have been sitting under great pressure for a prolonged period of time. There is no extra money to save with all the increases we have seen. The recent VAT increase from 14% to 15% is being felt by families trying to put food on the table.

"This increase will be felt throughout the economy, and particularly the transport sector which deals with fuel increases."

Smith explained that, in most households, ensuring that water and electricity bills were paid, together with transport costs for work and school, were the priority expenses.

"This is non-negotiable for families. They need to ensure their transport costs are taken care of, and that they have water and power because that is how their home functions.

"With the huge increases, it means that the majority of a family's income goes towards paying these three costs," she said.

As a result, the only other area where families could cut back was on the grocery list.

"We find that many people cannot afford the basic items, and are opting for cheaper items that don't offer the best nutrition.

"Women of the household then suffer because they will not eat unless everyone has eaten, and at that point there is very little food left over. It's a vicious cycle we get into," she said.

Smith believed that the situation was so dire that only government intervention would help, by increasing social grants and minimum wages.

DA ward councillor Heinz de Boer said the imminent tariffs would be difficult to swallow.

"This I feel will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. People are going through tough times. Some tariffs cannot be avoided because of national regulations, but this is going to be a difficult time for people," he said.

IFP eThekwini executive committee member Mduduzi Nkosi said while he felt the city had tried to reduce the impact on consumers, it was up to residents to take up the fight as well.

"As politicians, we can't do it all. Residents must also talk about what's affecting them.

"Residents need to ask the city about where their money is going to, the same money that they are paying as part of bills.

"The money must be effectively used for service delivery," Nkosi said.

eThekwini acting spokesperson Mandla Nsele said the draft budget was expected to be tabled for adoption at a sitting of the full council on May 31.

"Comments on the draft budget/ Integrated Development Plan have been received via e-mail, written submissions and through the public engagements," he said.

"The increases may be revised prior to the final budget adoption.

"However, residents are advised to ensure that they take cognisance of their utility usage, especially during the winter months when usage is increased, and to remember that VAT has also increased, which will affect the increases," said Nsele.

Find the budget at: www.durban.gov.za/Resource_Centre/reports/Budget/Documents/MediumTermRevenueAndExpednitureto2020_2021.pdf

The Independent on Saturday

 
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