Water levy: no way

The Threewaterskloof Dam a couple of weeks ago.

Ratepayers are pushing back against the City’s plan to hit them with a drought levy.

This follows the city council voting on Tuesday December 5 to seek public comment on the levy so it can be introduced in February next year.

The City says the levy, based on a property’s valuation, is necessary because residents’ water-saving efforts have eaten into its revenue stream at a time when it needs to pay for desalination plants, boreholes and other expensive projects to stop the taps running dry.

But ratepayers argue the City has itself to blame for the water crisis and now it wants to punish them for saving water.

The Table View Residents’ Association fears any public participation on the levy will simply be “window dressing”.

An online petition went live on www.dearcapetown.co.za two days after the city council meeting and within three hours it had 130 comments and signatures.

By Monday December 11, that number had reached 1313.

Brackenfell resident Sandra Dickson, who started the petition, said she wanted to get “tens of thousands” of signatures to take to Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.

“The comments are sent by our website directly to the city as soon as the petitioner fills out the petition form and presses enter,” said Ms Dickson.

But the City says the drought charge would not have been proposed if there was any other way.

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, said the drought charge was “an incredibly tough proposal to make”.

“We were not in favour of massive tariff increases for all. Usually such an approach would also result in inflated price increases which would set the benchmark higher and higher every year for ordinary people, building on the previous years.

“We spoke to as many South African and international financial experts as possible to hear all options at our disposal.The drought charge is proposed for three winters, to 30 June 2021 if necessary.

“The money will be used only for our emergency water programme and existing water services due to the extreme decrease in revenue. It is not punitive. It is for an emergency.

“As a city, we cannot hope for the required help from the national government at the moment. There is simply no money for what is required. We need to do this as Team Cape Town. We will have debt funding as well,” said Ms Limberg.

She said the City had made big budget cuts and savings to ease the load on consumers and all rebates would continue.

“It has been difficult. We’ve had to postpone some programmes, have made decisions to cut many non-essential and basic services and we have managed to reprioritise some R2.6 billion. But this is not enough to help us to avoid Day Zero.

“We do undertake that in general, if residential water users have been saving what they’ve needed to save, their bill will not be more than what they were paying for water at the start of the crisis, with the charge included.

“The current rates rebates that apply on the standard property rates will also apply to this drought charge. If approved, the drought charge will only be valid until 30 June 2021.”

Des Palm, chairman of the Western Cape Action Forum, who was also instrumental in setting up the petition, said “timely action years ago” could have seen solutions like desalination well in place and functioning by now.

“The City and the DA have been warned by opposition political parties about the water shortages as far back as 2011… The mayor emphatically stated that the City will never run out of water. This mantra she repeated until not too long ago, saying a ‘well run City will not run out of water’.

“The water issue has now forced the City into crisis mode but not even that is being handled correctly. Rather than listen to well experienced companies as to what the remedies must be, it seems like water is the latest political tool in what appears to be a very worrying toolbox,” said Mr Palm.

The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance (GCTCA) said it was “grossly unfair and irrational” for residents to be asked to save water, only to be “punished” when they did so.

The GCTCA said it would not “stand idly by while being bullied just because some arrogant power crazy politico thinks (mistakenly) that the Cape Town ratepayer is a docile, subservient and pliant entity”.

The Table View Residents’ Association (TVRA) said it opposed any form of water levy that was directly linked to property values.

TVRA vice-chairwoman Mandy da Matta said the drought charge was not a fair way to raise money for water projects.

“The water levy amounts to lazy municipal management that provides no insight into how to raise funding for a project of this nature and may have catastrophic unintended consequences that may very well collapse the economic infrastructure of the City of Cape Town.”

She said the TVRA supported the petition but she feared the City might chalk the entire petition up as merely one objection and “that the process of public participation is merely window dressing or ticking a box for legality sake”.

She questioned just how meaningful public participation was if the mayor had the power to do as she pleased regardless of what the public said.

“We need to openly question the City if the mayor has a unilateral vote to override the sentiment of the ratepayers and residents of this city, as is the case with planning matters under the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act. “