Monday, March 22, 2010

Most town councils not raising fees

RESIDENTS outside of Aljunied and Jurong can breathe easy for now, as most town councils say they will not be raising their conservancy fees just yet.

Aljunied and Jurong town councils announced two weeks ago that they will be increasing their service and conservancy (S&C) fees from next month, due to higher operating and maintenance costs.

However, 13 of the 14 remaining town councils say they will not be raising their fees just yet. The last town council – Hougang – did not respond to queries.

But some did say rising costs have made it increasingly difficult for them to maintain the status quo.

Aljunied and Jurong town councils had made known to their residents that they will raise monthly conservancy charges by between 50 cents and $4.50 for Singapore home owners, depending on the type of flat.

The increase for permanent residents and foreigners will be between $2.80 and $7.50.

Some of the 13 town councils The Straits Times spoke to said they were able to balance their budgets and thus will not raise S&C fees.

Just how do they do it?

Tanjong Pagar Town Council chairman Koo Tsai Kee said his council had set aside ’sufficient accumulated surpluses’ in both its operating and sinking funds.

Most town councils keep a sinking fund for future maintenance works and projects like the Lift Upgrading Programme.

Another chairman, Tampines Town Council’s Masagos Zulkifli, puts it down to ‘prudent cash flow management’ and also residents who have been punctual with their payments.

The town councils say they try to stretch their dollar, for example, by using energy-saving lights and increasing the productivity of their employees with the help of technology.

Said a spokesman for Marine Parade Town Council: ‘The town council is also mindful of the long-term maintenance costs needed when we consider installing additional facilities in the estates.’

But Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang Town Council chairman Inderjit Singh said it has become tougher to manage the budget.

‘Costs have gone up everywhere, significant of which is manpower cost. The costs of materials and contracts have also been steadily increasing. Utility charges also form a significant part of our costs, especially electricity,’ he said.

Hong Kah Town Council said 40 per cent of its operating expenses for its last financial year (2008/2009) went towards its utility bills.

Its spokesman said the tariff hike also cost the town council an additional $2.9 million.

Switching to energy-saving lights has helped to trim 10 per cent off its electricity bill.

Mr Singh said: ‘So far, we have managed to do everything at the highest quality without increasing any charges to the residents.’

But his town council will not rule out future hikes. ‘If we don’t (raise charges), we will run at a deficit, which is not tenable and will affect our quality of work if we cannot get the right resources because of the deficit,’ he said.

Mr Singh added that his town council had planned to raise charges a few years ago, but held back due to a goods and services tax increase.

It also held back last year due to the recession, and focused on controlling costs.

‘I hope residents will realise that we cannot not increase (our charges) in the coming years,’ he added.

West Coast Town Council chairman Arthur Fong said that while the newer flats in the town council district might require less repairs now, they will cost more down the road when repainting works are done.

Though he does not see a need to increase the S&C fees immediately, Mr Masagos said the Lift Upgrading Programme and town development programmes do ’cause a drain’ to the sinking fund.

It may not be entirely fair to compare town councils, Mr Singh and Mr Fong pointed out, as each one is different and operates independently of others.

The ages of the estates are different, and they have been maintained and improved at different rates as well.

‘The cost to maintain different types of properties of different ages means that comparing councils is not meaningful,’ said Mr Fong.

Even within a town council district, property types in the different divisions are different.

Precincts within the same division may also differ, resulting in different costs, schedules, and attention from the town council.

‘We have been very careful in that we try to do things in a no-frills way, but again, to manage the expectations of residents who are comparing with others is a constant challenge,’ Mr Fong said.

Source: Straits Times, 22 Mar 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment