It was a delicate balancing act: On the one side was its aim to turn things around in the embattled eThekwini metro and avoid being put under administration, and on the other was its attempt to ensure that tariffs were not increased exceedingly amid tough economic conditions.
In the end, the R65.5-billion budget Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda tabled for the metro on Wednesday, which he described as "pro-poor", received the nod from the majority party, so much so that councillors danced and sang in jubilation.
Kaunda said although the City "feels the pain" for residents, tariffs had to increase due to global economic conditions and other factors.
The eThekwini metro is in the clutches of a Section 154 intervention by the national government after a string of governance issues.
If the metro's authorities don't buckle down and turn things around, the metro could be put under administration.
Kaunda dished out R953-million for human settlements in eThekwini, which has almost 600 informal settlements.
He also allocated:
- R1.2-billion for sanitation and upgrades to sewer lines, among other things;
- R2.9 billion for the expansion and upgrading of 16 wastewater treatment works, which aren't operating optimally due to floods;
- R850-million for public transport; and
- R205-million for roads.
Delivering the budget, Kaunda said, "Putting this budget together has been a tough balancing act between cost-reflective tariffs and breaking even from a business perspective, while ensuring sustainability and uninterrupted service delivery."
He said it took quite some time to put it together.
The metro recently announced a sharp electricity tariff increase of 21.91%, which was roundly rejected by 16 000 residents in a poll the Democratic Alliance (DA) conducted, according to DA eThekwini executive committee member, Yogis Govender.
But Kaunda brought it down to 18.94% - slightly higher than the nationally loathed 18.49% the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) announced. He said the proposed increase was "aligned" with that which Nersa announced.
But Kaunda stuck to his guns when it came to water tariffs, hitting residents with proposed 14.9% and 15.9 increases for residents and businesses, respectively.
"Some of the key drivers of the water tariff increase include a 5.5% increase imposed by Umgeni Water, a 3% increase related to the construction of the essential Upper Umkhomazi Dam and repairs and maintenance contributes of around 4.3% and security of around 1%," Kaunda said.
Other proposed changes were shrinking the property rates tariffs from 8.9% to 7.9%; decreasing the sanitation tariff from 11.9% to 10.9% for households and from 12.9% to 11.9% for businesses; and taking the refuse tariff increase down to 6.9% from 8%.
In a media briefing on Thursday, Kaunda announced that the changes at Eskom for eThekwini would come with Stage 7 loadshedding for industrial nodes, which will be limited to four hours of no power.
"Stage 7 is not normally a stage that ... kicks in," Kaunda said. "We hope this will enable them to plan their production around this constraint."
The City's website explains that industrial nodes in some blocks start from Stage 7 loadshedding, which comes with four hours of no power.
"Although this victory is significant for residents, it is regrettable that water rates will not be cut. These tariffs continue to be unnecessarily high, and businesses will endure a huge 15.9% hike, which is 2% greater than last year. All of these hikes are substantially above the rate of inflation, putting already struggling households in a financial bind. Such a high tariff increase could have been avoided had the ANC-led government recovered the billions owed to it, removed the yearly non-revenue losses of water and electricity, which total nearly R3 billion, and put a stop to corruption and theft.
"eThekwini is experiencing a gradual collapse, with the national government considering intervention through administration. It is time for Mayor Kaunda and his colleagues to recognise the evident signs of decline and step down from their positions," Govender said.
Meanwhile, the Pietermaritzburg-headquartered Msunduzi municipality passed its R11-billion budget. Rates shot up by 7%, electricity by 21.69%; refuse by 7%; sanitation by 16%; and water by 10%.
DA Msunduzi caucus leader Ross Strachan said: "The budget is still not 100% funded unless our Eskom/Umgeni water debt is dealt with. This alone is a red flag that makes this budget unrealistic. A bloated organogram, which sees five people doing one person's job, more than R250-million spent on contracted security, collapsed municipal entities, and a rate base that has not grown above 40% of the population of Msunduzi.
"These, among other fundamentally important factors, make this budget unrealistic and a complete indictment on the residents of this city."