Blessings Chidakwa and Yeukai Karengezeka
Harare City Council’s budget proposals delivered last night will see the average bill for high-density householders rise to $225 a month.
In the budget, council quadrupled water charges, raised sewer charges between 2.4-fold and 3-fold, doubled rents for council property, but kept clinic consultation fees at 2019 levels.
An average low-density property holder will pay almost $700 a month, according to council estimates, although variations will be far higher between small flats and large houses on big stands.
Council proposes to spend about $4,6 billion next year, with almost $1,7 billion going on the capital budget and $2,9 billion on the revenue budget.
Rates, supplementary charges and property taxes will be the largest contributors to council income, having to provide $1,9 billion, and service charges much of the rest but with $400 million for capital programmes coming from grants and loans.
The rest of the capital budget has to come from the rates account and from the capital portion of each of the service charges.
Council is eager to see the Zinara grant rise to something a lot closer to what Harare residents pay out each year in licence fees, but as an interim measure, until it can get this full grant, proposes to levy a 20 percent development levy on all new developments to pay for the new roads that are required.
Water charges remain stepped for households and are rising around four-fold from the levels already set in the October supplementary budget.
In high-density suburbs, the first 5 cubic metres of water will cost $20 a cubic metre, so the basic 5 000 litres, the minimum a family needs for a safe and secure healthy life, will cost $100.
The next 5 cubic metres will cost $24 a cubic metre, the next 10 cubic metres $27 a cubic metre and everything above 20 cubic metres $35 a cubic metre.
Charges are higher in low-density suburbs where the first 5 cubic metres will cost $25 a cubic metre, the next 5 cubic metres will cost $29 a cubic metre, the next 10 cubic metres $33 a cubic metre and everything above 20 cubic metres will cost $41 a cubic metre.
Industrial and commercial water users will see their bills rise almost five times to $20 a cubic metre.
Sewer charges rise to $41 a toilet in high-density areas and $91 a toilet in low-density areas.
While the city plans to use cost-recovery models to fund most services, health will remain an exception.
Consultation fees will remain the same as now, but a few treatment services will rise.
A caesarean will more than triple to $1 837.
Detailed proposals for property taxes were not included in the budget statement.
Presenting the city’s 2020 $4,6 billion budget, Finance and Development committee chairperson
Councillor Luckson Mukunguma said the budget formulation process took into account the prevailing economic condition.
He said the budget sought to fulfil council’s 2019 to 2025 goals, particularly to provide potable water and prevent environmental pollution through effective waste management as well as the rehabilitation of roads infrastructure.
“Honourable councillors, the tariff regime has changed largely due to the existing macro-economic environment which is hyper inflationary,” said Clr Mukunguma.
This budget, said Clr Mukunguma, was predicated on Central Government’s thrust of Vision 2030.
“This budget, which is guided by our strategic plan, also takes care of the intention of the Government as espoused in the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) that is to achieve an upper middle class income economy by 2030,” he said.
Clr Mukunguma said the prevailing macro-economic environment posed serious challenges for the city which had to battle to remain afloat.
“We are sympathetic to the residents of Harare who are facing many challenges because of the economic conditions prevailing in the country,” he said.
“Although we have tried to reasonably adjust our tariffs and fees, we hope the macro-economic adjustment will not force us to readjust our fees as we try to provide services in a constrained fiscal space. This budget is therefore, meant to give our people new hope and transform Harare into a smart city.”
Council intends to take stronger action to collect all charges due, ranging from councillors going door-to-door as suggested by Clr Mukunguma, discounts for prompt payers of industrial water charges to blacklisting delinquent customers, thus reducing their credit worthiness with lenders.
Harare Residents Trust programmes officer Mr Happiness Mukambachaza said the way tariffs have been increased will likely not produce the desired results.
“We appreciate that council’s budget this time tried to address major issues. However, we are concerned about the manner in which basic services have been increased.
“Water is a basic need and given the prevailing economic conditions, we wonder how they expect residents to pay such huge amounts when their salaries have remained stagnant. If people are already failing to pay the current charges, what more about the new ones, council has to think twice,” he said.
He accused council of coming up with a budget that does not reflect what residents proposed during pre-budget consultations.
“We are shocked by the figures proposed by council. They consulted us as residents sometime in July and so many things have happened and it is no longer the same,” said Mr Mukambachaza.
Zimbabwe Combined Residents Association president Mr McStephen Nyabvure said the budget failed to consider the ratepayers’ plight.
“Ratepayers are burdened by the economy situation and even council itself is saying that it is being owed almost one billion by ratepayers.
“This is a reflection that there will not be any miracle that will make residents settle their debts when the charges have been increased. The increase under this economy is not justifiable at all.”A