Old people’s homes in dire financial straits (19-06-07)

By Brendon Tulani
BULAWAYO - Hard-pressed inmates of retiremen

t institutions and religious organisations in Zimbabwe’s second largest city are appealing to city authorities for a reduction in service and water charges following stringent regulations and hefty penalties the city authorities put in place to encourage residents conserve water.

Bulawayo city council is proposing a 2 600% increase in rates and services in its mid-year supplementary budget.

Retirement homes have appealed for a 50% rebate on water and sewerage charges.

Bulawayo is facing a looming water shortage for its 1,5 million residents owing to patchy rains over the past wet season in its key water catchments area.

The council imposed strict water rationing measures and stiff penalties for offenders to save dwindling supplies in its major supply reservoirs and avert a disaster.

Officials say the city’s water rationing programme aims at achieving a daily consumption of less than 90 000 cubic metres of water against a daily demand of 112 000 cubic metres.

Council could decommission two major dams by the end of July if residents maintain current water consumption.

At the same time increasing purification costs, owing to inflation pegged at 4 230% has forced council to hike its tariffs to sustain service delivery.

One such appeal for a reduction in water charges from Garden Park Trust – a welfare organisation catering for the elderly whose ages range from 75 to 80 years – says inmates of the institution are all in dire financial straits.

High inflation that has triggered daily price increases has rendered pensioners’ life savings worthless.

“A majority of these people require assistance from “Help” organisations or family members. Many are pensioners whose income is negligible and often insufficient to cover essential medical drugs,” part of the appeal from the trustees to council reads.

But council officials have turned down the request.

The city fathers say the old people’s homes are benefiting from the council in the form of grants-in-aid.

Council has already approved more than Z$12,6 million for eight old people’s homes. It also foots half the institutions annual rates bills and allows these institutions to pay only a quarter (25%) of the annual fixed sewerage charges.

“If we allow the institutions a further 50% rebate we will effectively reduce the bills to 25% whereas old people staying in their properties pay half the rates bill,” says acting city treasurer, Middleton Nyoni

Nyoni said such relief should translate to a proportionate benefit for those who are living in their properties and taking care of orphans.

Church organisations have made similar appeals on water levies. Religious organisations, which are charged non-domestic consumption tariffs, say they are finding it difficult to meet water bills.

But council says it risks losing Z$99,7 million in revenue for the last half of this year if it accedes to the requests.

“Churches are providing a service to the community and council has to establish a balance between loss of income and appreciation of the sterling work that churches perform,” Nyoni said.

Under the Urban Councils’ Act (Section 270) religious organisations that own properties are exempted from paying rates.

There are 270 church organisations owning properties in the city.

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