Spare a thought for ratepayers

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THE budget cycle for local authorities has started throughout the country and most councils are in the process of consulting residents on their financial plans for 2015.

Bulawayo City Council has reached the final stages of the consultation process and has indicated that it intends to increase rates by 4% in its budget for next year.

The proposals are not likely to come as good news for city residents already reeling from the effects of a free falling economy and massive job losses.

Zimbabwe has been shedding jobs like never before and Bulawayo is one of the hardest hit cities as it used to be the hub of the country’s manufacturing sector.

The traditional big employers such as the National Railways of Zimbabwe now go for months without paying workers.

It would not be farfetched to speculate that the majority of the companies are not going to be awarding their workers any salary increases in the coming year because of the prevailing economic situation.

On the other hand, councils are struggling to provide services because of dwindling income and the increasing failure by ratepayers to pay their bills on time.

The majority of the local authorities have not recovered from a government directive last year to write-off bills of residents that had accumulated since dollarisation in 2009.

A number of councils are finding it difficult to pay their workers on time and capital projects are virtually frozen.

Bulawayo mayor Martin Moyo believes the defaults by ratepayers were mostly a consequence of speculation, where residents believed their debts would be written off again.

This could be true to some extent but the truth is that the majority can no longer afford to pay their bills.

Therefore, it would be incumbent upon the councils to strike a balance between the need to remain afloat and being sensitive to the plight of their ratepayers.

Until a time when the economy improves, the local authorities may need to keep their budgets at current levels for some time.