Sunday 19 February 2017

PAP town councils to increase service and conservancy charges from 1 June 2017

Higher service, conservancy fees soon for most HDB residents
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2017

Most Housing Board residents will pay higher service and conservancy charges (S&CC) from June 1.

The fee hike by 15 People's Action Party (PAP) town councils will range between $1 and $17 a month.

But it will be implemented in two stages, with the second rise taking effect on June 1 next year.

The increase will also apply to HDB shops and offices, as well as markets and cooked food stalls, the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council said yesterday.

Its chairman, Dr Teo Ho Pin, is also the coordinating chairman for the PAP town councils.

This is the second time that PAP town councils are raising S&CC charges in the past three to five years. In 2012, seven of them raised their fees, citing higher electricity, maintenance and operation costs. The rest did so in 2014 for similar reasons. Before that, fees at most town councils had remained unchanged for almost 10 years.

The reason for the latest increase is the higher costs of cleaning services plus pest and vector control.

Town councils also have to set aside more funds for lift replacement and maintenance, following a spate of lift breakdowns in public housing estates last year.

In the first hike in June, home owners will pay from 50 cents to $9 more a month, depending on flat type.

For commercial units, the rise will range from 9 cents to 27 cents per square metre, and for cooked food stalls, from $2.70 to $23 more a month.

In the second increase next year, home owners will pay from 50 cents to $8 more a month.

For commercial units, the hike will range from 5 cents to 21 cents more per square metre, and for cooked food stalls, from $2.50 to $17.50 more a month.

The statement noted that as the charges by each town council are different, individual notices on the new rates will be sent to residents.

It said, among other things, that cleaning costs, which account for 20 per cent of annual expenditure, have risen over the years as companies spend more on mechanisation, training and progressive wages for their cleaners.

It also said the new fees will help the town councils to build up their sinking funds for new and improved lifts. The amounts required "are significant and will continue to grow as our estates get older".

Town council chairmen interviewed said a new rule requiring town councils to set aside 14 per cent of their income for a new lift replacement fund from April - on top of existing sinking fund contributions - is a financial strain, despite additional government grants of at least $63 million a year to help with lift costs.

Jurong-Clementi Town Council, which raised its S&CC in 2014, needs to do it again because a further $4.2 million is needed for the new fund, said its chairman, Mr Ang Wei Neng. "We cannot sustain such a drain on our operating funds indefinitely, and have to raise S&CC as a last resort," he said.

Piano teacher Catherine Lim, 54, who lives in a four-room flat in Clementi Avenue 4, said: "It will be manageable for people like me who are middle-income." She now pays $55.50 a month.

Sales account manager and sole breadwinner Ong Boon Hua, 35, pays $42 in S&CC for a three-room flat in Tiong Bahru he shares with six others. He said: "I have no choice but to pay it, but I hope the town council will give us a breakdown of how much these services cost."

The statement said town councils will work with MPs and community organisations to help residents struggling to pay their S&CC.

The Government provides S&CC rebates in its annual Budget. Last year, one- and two-room homes got rebates totalling three months, while three- and four-room homes got two months' worth of rebates. In all, the Government paid out $86 million to about 840,000 homes.

Mr Pritam Singh, chairman of the Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, said it would make an announcement in due course, but he declined to say if fees would go up. It last raised S&CC in 2014.

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