Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Conservancy fees up at two town councils

ALJUNIED and Jurong town councils will raise their monthly service and conservancy (S&C) charges from April for the first time in five years.

They have cited higher maintenance and operating costs – particularly for the numerous new lifts in the older estates – as reasons for the hike.

Charges will go up by between 50 cents and $4.50 for Singapore homeowners, depending on the type of flat.

This will raise the charges to between $19.50 for a one-room flat in Jurong and $109.50 for an HUDC apartment in Aljunied each month.

The increase for permanent residents and foreigners will be between $2.80 and $7.50. They already pay more in fees than Singaporeans, providing a larger baseline for the increase. Aljunied Town Council, for example, will raise fees by between 5.5 and 7per cent.

The changes are expected to affect about 50,000 households in Aljunied and 53,500 households in Jurong.

Rates will also go up for shops, offices and market stalls in the estates.

While Jurong did not give details, Aljunied said its shops will now have to pay $1.83 per sq m, up from $1.66 per sq m. Market and hawker stalls have to pay between $6.27 and $21.65 more.

Checks on the websites of the 14 other town councils, all of which charge different S&C fees, showed no one else is raising them.

MPs for both Aljunied and Jurong GRCs said they were older estates which, because of the Lift Upgrading Programme, have an influx of new lifts, all of which need to be maintained.

In circulars sent out to residents and lessees of shops, offices and hawker stalls, both town councils said the hikes were to pay for higher electricity tariffs and cleaning expenses, in addition to the upkeep of new lifts.

Though tariffs have fluctuated, they have risen by 38.4 per cent between October 2004 and January this year, they said.

Jurong noted that electricity charges formed 30 per cent of its overall operating costs and would increase with ‘the installation of more lifts, linkways and amenities within the town’.

But it is lift maintenance which takes up the biggest chunk of funds, said MPs for both town councils.

In Aljunied GRC, 1,109 blocks are now equipped with lifts stopping at every level, up from 884 in 2005. In Jurong, the figure is now 1,139, up from 1,002 in 2005.

On its website, Aljunied Town Council said it was ‘no longer sustainable’ to maintain charges at the current level without running into an operating deficit. Keeping the current charges would mean deteriorating standards over time, which would only raise costs further.

MP for Aljunied GRC Cynthia Phua said that while Singapore was emerging from a recession, she was mindful there was ‘no good time’ for a fee hike.

She told The Straits Times that the town council had wanted to increase the fees as early as February 2008, but held back as high inflation rates were adding to residents’ burdens. Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had called on town councils then to freeze their fees but left it to them to make the call.

Then the recession hit last year, and the town council had to absorb the costs.

‘We are playing catch-up with costs now, and we also have to set aside money for future costs,’ she said.

On their websites, both town councils said the increases were not tied to losses made in investments linked to the failed Lehman Brothers investment bank.

In 2008, town council investments came under the spotlight when it was revealed in Parliament that several had sunk a total of $16 million into such products. Jurong was not one of them, but Aljunied had some exposure.

On their websites, both town councils claimed to have made money from their investments.

Both MPs also said that the town councils would help residents who might find the fee hike difficult to afford.

‘We can consider their case, and help will be provided to them,’ said Madam Halimah Yacob for Jurong GRC.

Aljunied also said in its FAQs that it does not expect S&C fee arrears to rise.

Source: Straits Times, 9 Mar 2010

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