Friday, July 27, 2012

7 town councils 'to raise S&C charges'


Straits Times: Thu, Jul 26

SERVICE and conservancy charges are set to rise in half of the 14 housing estates managed by People's Action Party town councils because of rising costs.

The amount of the increase - the first in eight years for these estates - is not known, but sources say the fee hike is not likely to be done at one go, but rather, introduced in stages.

Grassroots leaders and those familiar with town council operations told The Straits Times that spiralling maintenance costs have made the current fees unsustainable. They say that the move to raise fees will be made soon, with the announcement likely to come before National Day on Aug 9.

Said one senior grassroots leader: 'If they don't increase it now, I think funds for certain town councils can last for about three years. Then, upgrading projects may have to be delayed.'

The seven town councils said to be raising fees are Bishan-Toa Payoh, Chua Chu Kang, East Coast, West Coast, Tanjong Pagar, Tampines and Holland-Bukit Panjang. Together, they provide services for around 350,000 Housing Board flats.

The last time any of these seven increased municipal fees was in 2004.

In 2010, two other PAP town councils - Aljunied and Jurong - raised charges by between 50 cents and $4.50, depending on flat type.

There has also been a round of cuts. Last year, some residents in Ang Mo Kio had their fees cut, while the Workers' Party cut charges in the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council after it took over.

HDB residents currently pay $10 to $100 a month in service and conservancy charges, depending on the type of flat and estate. A large chunk of the fees collected is used to pay for services such as trash collection, cleaning and maintenance.

When contacted, the coordinating chairman for PAP town councils, Dr Teo Ho Pin, declined to comment on the reported fee increase, saying only that 'nothing has been firmed up'.

He said, however, that it was an issue they were tracking, and added that 'it is a fact that town councils are facing cost pressures'.

Town councils' annual reports indicate a steady rise in operating costs in recent years. In East Coast, for instance, operating expenses rose from $18.2 million in the financial year ending March 2008 to $20.5 million in the financial year ending March 2011.

Political analyst Lam Peng Er said the next increase is likely to draw complaints initially, but most people will eventually get used to it. 'How many of the past increases in municipal fees do you remember?' he asked.

And given the rise in inflation, a fee hike is to be expected, he added. 'Costs have gone up, so they either absorb it or share it. Town councils don't have a magic wand that can produce something out of nothing,' he said.

Mr Jimmy Tay, a grassroots leader in Hong Kah North, which is managed by Chua Chu Kang Town Council, suggested, however, that future increases be placed on a fixed schedule.

'Maybe they should standardise when they increase, since costs are always going up,' he said. 'That way it won't come as a surprise and they won't have to increase by a large amount at once,' he added.

  
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