Thursday, 4 April 2013

Kouga Municipality Electricity Accounts Unfair and Inflated

Electricity tariffs in Kouga are based on a sliding scale, with the tariff amount increasing significantly with increasing usage. The Kouga Municipality(KM) follows an irregular meter reading program, with meter reading periods varying from 26 days up to 41 days. The varying length of each billing period has a serious effect on the amount billed, pushing medium usage residents into the punitive high usage bracket. This leads to significantly inflated electricity bills despite the average usage remaining the same throughout the period.

This is completely unfair to residents, although it is greatly to the benefit of the municipality who get increased revenue for no increase in usage. When a punitive sliding scale of tariffs is used, it is absolutely essential that a consistent time period for measurement be employed. This is both logical and obvious.

Using a varying time scale would be like allowing the SA Revenue Service to choose what time period to assess your income, sometimes over 6 months, and sometimes over 18 months. The fact that you will be pushed into a higher tax bracket over the 18 months measurement would be unfair and unconstitutional.

There is a simple and widely adopted solution to this variable period metering and billing problem. The year is broken up into 13 periods, 12 periods of 28 days and the last period of 29 days, giving exactly 365 days. Meters can be read at any time and any frequency within this period of 365 days. An average daily usage for the metering period is calculated. This average daily usage is then simply pro-rata’d to the appropriate 28 day segments. This ensures that the billing against the sliding scale is always for a consistent number of days.

The Jeffreys Bay Residents Association has taken up this matter with the officials at the KM. A report from a JBRA committee member appears below. We have also developed an Excel spreadsheet (downloadable here) which residents can use to record and analyse their electricity expenditure. This spreadsheet shows how your electricity costs are distributed across the sliding scale, and the cost to you of inconsistent billing periods pushing you into higher usage categories. All you have to do is enter the start and end billing dates and Total kilowatt hours used from your monthly KM account. If sufficient interest is shown, this spreadsheet can be extended to include water and sewerage billing as well.

Although the KM will undoubtedly protest that their software cannot handle this change, or that it requires a council decision, or that they cannot afford the loss of revenue, that is entirely their problem. In these difficult financial times, Jeffreys Bay residents should not be paying for unfair and inflated electricity billing, no matter what the excuses.

Visit to Kouga Municipality:
High December 2012 Accounts

A JBRA committee member scheduled a meeting at the Kouga Municipality on 6 March 2013 at 14h:00 with the following three officials:
  • Ria van Heerden: Income Manager 
  • · Wilma le Roux: Bookkeeper 
  • · Maureen Dodgens: Accounts
The following aspects were discussed:
  1. The Municipality does not stick to a 30 to 31 day period when reading meters.Time periods of 34 to 37 days were for example used in December.
  2. High water accounts in December.
  3. High sewerage accounts in December. I also asked which sewerage tariff was introduced by Kouga.
  4. EMF: What is it used for. 
The answers and solutions on these aspects as answered by the three mentioned officials are as follow:

1. It was established during the discussions of meter readings for December that time periods like 36 and 37 days were used to bill accounts. I made it clear that this is not acceptable as a sliding scale is applicable. I did mention that it is better than last year where the time periods were 41 days twice within three months. Although Mrs Van Heerden used my account as an example she was very reluctant to see that the 34 day period has an influence on an account, especially if your electricity usage falls on the higher levels of the sliding scale. She also went to fetch one of the employees and admitted in front of me that the employee had a meter reading time period of 37 days. I immediately said this is not acceptable. The solution from the officials for this problem is pre-paid meters as you will be able to monitor your electricity usage and then maybe save. I asked Mrs Dodgens to please keep to the 30 to 31 meter reading time periods as this is the other solution to high accounts if you don’t want to use a pre-paid meter. She explained that there are seven people involved with reading meters and that they start from the 18 th of every month in Paradise Beach and Aston Bay to read meters. She did however take note of the request and would try and keep to the 30 to 31 day meter reading time period.

2. High water bills for December. Water was higher in December than the previous account. This also had a significant influence on the sewerage billing. The high water tariffs for Wavecrest Rate payers were also mentioned in the local newspapers two weeks ago. The officials answer was simply that we used too much water in December.

3. Electricity billing for the December holiday period was extremely high. I have examples of accounts that were double the amount of the previous month. Pre-paid meters were mentioned as a solution. They also promised to monitor the next December meter reading period and not go over the 30 to 31 day period. I also asked if the meter readings were forecast or read. Mrs Dodgens replied that it was read, but that if the reading was wrong it will be rectified in the next account. I asked her to keep to the 30 to 31 day time period when reading meters. I asked for and was given the latest applicable sliding scales for water, electricity and sewerage.

4. Sewerage billing increased in December. As the water billing is linked to the sewerage billing it can be understood. The sewerage billing on my account was however more than 200% on one of the three billing aspects. I mentioned this aspect about three times. I also asked about the sewerage billing that was introduced by the Kouga Municipality and they mentioned it was the last sewerage billing aspects on my account. That amount was 200% more than the previous month. Use less water is therefore the solution according to them.

5. EMF. I asked what the EMF was used for by the Municipality and Mrs van Heerden said it was not used for the re-establishment of dunes but for dumping grounds. They gave me the legal aspects thereof.

The meeting took place in quite a good spirit and it was mentioned that they had a meeting in two days’ time with the Director involved with Finances. What exactly they wanted to mention, I am not sure of, but I think we need to show the Municipality that we are closely monitoring their accounts as this affects our pockets.
Findings and solutions

I am not satisfied with all the answers and solutions given by the three officials. Billing of accounts is not fair at this stage and must be rectified. Electricity increases are on its way again and will soon affect all of us even more. The solutions to the problems as experienced with Rate payer Accounts will clearly have to be monitored and investigated as this can save the rate payer money. Pre-paid meters are not the only solution for high electricity accounts. The effect of a longer meter reading period must be established and used to stop the Municipality from transgressing with this aspect and overcharging Rate payers. If the meter reading people start on time and keep to the time periods in each suburb, why must the period be exceeded. High water tariffs in Wavecrest continued in the new accounts for this month and must therefore be investigated as this also has an effect on sewerage and again affects our pockets. The additional sewerage tariff must also be investigated.

After we have calculated and established the effects of increased meter reading time periods and the chaos of new water tariffs, I think we should visit the Municipality again.

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