The Bulawayo City Council conducted the second phase of the budget consultation process which saw them convening a stakeholders meeting on Friday 27 November at the Small City Hall. The series of meetings continued in different wards all over the city during the weekend and are expected to continue in the remaining wards the following week ending 6 December 2009. The budget consultation meetings being carried out are feedback meetings of the process that started in October in preparation for the 2010 financial year. The objectives of the budget consultation programme had been to establish implementation challenges for 2009, confirm priority areas for 2010 and to establish options for financing the budget and get stakeholders commitment.
Priorities for 2010 have been set out as water, sewer, health, housing, social services, education, public lighting and roads. Council has proposed to have a standstill budget which will see the 2009 budget being carried over to 2010 and the tariffs remaining unchanged. This is because Council did not achieve what they wanted to do and would not be logical to increase rates for 2010 when only 20% of the ratepayers were able to pay this year. The total budget for 2010 is US$ 123,402,271. Of this amount 37.5% will be for general expenditure, 33% for repairs, 27.5% for staff welfare, capital contribution will be 1, 8% and 0, 2% for capital charges.
Council went on to highlight the actual cost of some of their services and how much residents are currently paying:
What consumers are paying
Fixed cost for water
In terms of actual costs residents in areas like Emakhandeni might get bills in the range of US$18, Suburbs US$24, Mahatshula US$29 and Burnside US$39.Valuation of properties is so old and was last done in 1992 and was done in Zimbabwe dollars and as a result the system of calculating rates is not user based. Rates for properties in the high-density suburbs are based on supplementary charges that are usually lower than they ought to be whilst rates in the low-density suburbs are property based, that is they are based on the value of the property and the developments made thereof. The other contributing factor to the seemingly high rates is the element of water levy and roads levy which are usually about 50% of the actual cost and these increase rates. Council pledged to look into these levies and make necessary adjustments as residents lamented. As a recommendation from stakeholders present at this meeting it was agreed that the budget should run up to June 2010 then it should be reviewed to assess whether there will be any commitment from ratepayers to pay and if not try to interrogate why people are failing to commit themselves. More awareness should also be created to encourage people to pay so as to get improved service delivery. Council on the other hand should also go on an extensive marketing drive in order to attract funding from private companies so as to lessen the burden on ratepayers. Stakeholders felt that the issue of a website is long overdue and the City should upgrade itself in order to be accessible to the business community and other stakeholders. Council was encouraged to look for alternative sources of income and residents suggested the public private partnerships, council parks, swimming pools for commercial use amongst other sources.
It was saddening to note that the attendance for the stakeholders’ budget consultation meeting was very low. Awareness should be created so that residents as consumers of services being provided by City Council should be proactive and part of the budget process from the onset instead of merely reacting by not paying.