People power beat Auntie Pat: How CT forced De Lille drought backtrack

19 January 2018 - 06:00
By Dave Chambers
A flood of outrage by Capetonians over a controversial drought tariff has forced Mayor Patricia de Lille to back down. More than 60 000 complaints over the proposal were lodged.
Image: Lerato Maduna/Gallo Images A flood of outrage by Capetonians over a controversial drought tariff has forced Mayor Patricia de Lille to back down. More than 60 000 complaints over the proposal were lodged.

Capetonians unleashed their wrath on city council in unprecedented numbers, batting away a controversial December proposal to introduce a drought levy based on property values.

In total, 61 002 comments were received on mayor Patricia de Lille's proposal — so many that only 36 444 could be categorised before Friday’s council meeting to vote on the levy.

And a chastened De Lille said on Thursday that the idea was likely to be scrapped. The outrage was one of the key reasons for it.

“In terms of the drought charge‚ it is likely to be dropped after massive outcry from Capetonians that it was unfair. I understand that response and it has personally been a tough lesson for the city‚” she said.

A report to be tabled at Friday’s special council meeting says ratepayers’ opposed the drought levy on numerous grounds‚ including:

  • The methodology of using property value‚ rather than water consumption‚ as the yardstick to determine the drought charge.
  • Targeting only certain property owners (those in properties valued below R400 000 would have been exempted) was regarded as unjust;

  • The City of Cape Town had ignored warnings about the drought and failed to take pro-active steps to head off a R1.7-billion budget shortfall caused by lower water consumption‚ such as making provision in medium-term revenue forecasts;
  • The council was guilty of bad planning by only reacting now with an expensive water augmentation programme which should have been gradually planned for‚ budgeted for and implemented over the past 5-10 years;
  • Income from the drought charge seemed substantially higher than the anticipated loss due to reduced consumption;
  • The drought charge punishes people for saving water and for incurring costs by installing water tanks‚ boreholes and grey water systems;
  • Not all properties use water‚ and taxing those that don’t would be unfair;
  • The levy would be another tax on the middle class‚ and detrimental to elderly people with shrinking disposable incomes;
  • The city council is wasting money in other areas that should be reprioritised;
  • The request for comments during the festive season is a sign of bad faith and an attempt to “push through” the levy without proper public consultation;
  • The levy would have a negative and potentially unaffordable impact on large shopping centres where tenants would be forced to pass on the extra cost to customers. And there would be exorbitant cost implications for commercial properties worth more than R1-billion;
  • The implementation of a drought tax would undermine the legal requirement of utility services to be cost-reflective in their tariffs;
  • Temporary taxes are a fallacy — they will remain; and
  • As a property tax‚ the levy will estrange ratepayers and there is no incentive for water savings.

Finally, the report to councillors says‚ there were “expressions of retracting political support” — indications that the levy would cost the DA votes among its support base.

The public participation exercise also yielded ideas from ratepayers about what should be done. These included that:

  • National government should contribute;
  • Water tariffs should increase based on consumption;
  • A minimum flat rate should be introduced across the board;
  • Visitors and tourists should be targeted;
  • Bond market funding should be accessed;
  • Ratepayers with water tanks should be subsidised;
  • Water management devices should be fitted on all properties;
  • The council should report transparently on water augmentation projects‚ their costs‚ funding sources and timelines‚ and distinguish between short-term emergency measures and long-term sustainability plans;
  • Green buildings should contribute at a lower margin;
  • There should be closer attention to the management and reduction of non-revenue water;
  • Water and sewerage tariff structures should have a fixed component based on property value and a variable cost based on consumption;
  • New developments should be compelled to have water-saving designs and measures;
  • Large water-intensive developments should be postponed during the drought period; and
  • The drought charge should be capped for residential and commercial properties above a certain threshold.