Irate and cash strapped ratepayers, pensioners and property owners slammed the Mossel Bay Municipality's proposed Draft Budget for the 2019/2020 financial year - especially the proposed 15% increase in property rates - as "shocking, scandalous and nothing but a wealth tax to milk a few for the benefit of non-paying masses."
An appeal was also made to property owners to boycott all property taxes.
Residents didn't mince their words in forceful letters to the media to express their shock and disappointment regarding the "thoughtless and cruel" price hikes that will bleed them dry.
"I dare say your council cannot be trusted with the welfare of all of Mossel Bay's residents. You cannot keep on taxing the few for the benefit of the non-paying masses."
"Wel, hierdie cash cow gaan nie verder betaal nie, en ek doen 'n beroep op ander inwoners om ook geen verdere belasting op eiendomswaarde te betaal nie. Betaal wel vir dienste."
The vexed Draft Budget that was recently tabled to, and conditionally accepted by the Mossel Bay Council, and the steep increases for Electricity (12,9 %); Refuse (15 %), and Property Rates (15%) immediately caused a public outcry.
The documents with the proposed tariffs have been made public on the Municipality's website https://www.mosselbay.gov.za/resource-category/budget?page=full and the public is urged to submit comments in writing to the municipal manager on the proposed increases and the draft budget.
"All comments received from the public will be considered during the process of setting tariffs and finalising the budget for the next financial year. The final document will be tabled to council for approval", reads a statement from municipal manager Thys Giliomee.
Property owners were also urged to check their municipal property valuation before the deadline for objections at the end of April.
The Supplementary Valuation Roll for the 2018/2019 financial year is open for public inspection on the fourth floor, Valuation Division, Montagu Place Building, Montagu Street, Mossel Bay from 1 April until 30 April. The closing date for the lodging of objections about individual property valuations is Tuesday, 30 April 2019.
Angry residents did not beat about the bush in strong-worded letters against the proposed tariff increases. In one of the letters published in the Mossel Bay Advertiser, a reader wrote:
Learn from the Poor:
"Do not be duped into accepting the latest property valuations, nor the 15% tax increase on property rates.
Take cognisance of the experience of the ageing population of the Bo-Kaap, where property valuations unexpectedly jumped millions of rands, leading to a dramatic increase in rates and taxes.
What safeguards Mossel Bay's residents from a similar experience?
If the bulk of municipal income suddenly comes primarily from taxes on property rates, what measures are in place to safeguard the fixed-income pensioners from dramatic increases in property valuations?
They retired here because of the DA-led council's policy of several years' marketing the town as the ideal place to invest their retirement nest egg. Mossel Bay, like Cape Town is DA-run. These retirees who bought property here are not on SASSA; they do not all qualify for SASSA, the municipal subsidy or discounts.
They do, however, run the risk of losing their homes when in the long run the municipal property valuation for the home they own outstrip their ability to meet the taxes levied.
The cash strapped - and especially older people - can still cut down on water and electricity consumption but will not be able to escape the property tax.
Learn from the reality of the poor in Mossel Bay, whose water is placed on drip when in arrears and whose municipal service charges debt is deducted off their prepaid electricity purchases.
The dramatic tax increase on property rates is nothing but a wealth tax. Municipal income from electricity is no longer guaranteed, so the municipality needs a different cash cow.
I can almost guarantee you the additional tax you pay on the increased value of your property will not be spent on any upgrades in the area you live. Do you have a clinic or library where you live?
What you do have is a municipality which cannot, or refuses to control illegal land grabs such as at the pig farm; which doesn't act against illegal squatters on municipal land, nor their illegal use of electricity; which has taken away your free electricity, only to give it to the people who pay for neither taxes nor services."
Mossel Bay Mayor Harry Levendal said in his Budget speech although the Municipality did not achieve a clean audit outcome for the 2017/2018 financial year, it maintained an unqualified audit opinion. Despite this regression in the audit outcome, the municipality still maintains strict financial discipline and is geared to address the issues highlighted by the Auditor General.
"The 2019/2020 budget is again focussed on service delivery and the community was consulted on their needs through the IDP processes. Through the ongoing and successful execution of the Ward Discretionary Funding Model, the Municipality can make the needed infrastructure development and service improvement to all fourteen wards. In addition, the management team provided guidance on what is necessary to maintain as well as expand infrastructure to be able to cope with future growth of Mossel Bay.
The proposed increase for electricity is 12.9 per cent, which is the percentage that NERSA allows municipalities to increase their electricity tariffs by. The increase for refuse charges consists of an increase of 15 per cent, which is the third of approximately four increases that will be above the inflation increase. The 15 per cent tariff increase is to contribute to the costs of the proposed new regional landfill facility for the Garden Route District municipal area. Property rates will increase with 15 per cent for residential properties. The water and sewerage tariffs increased respectively by 1 per cent.
It also had to be considered that the Municipality is reliant on its ratepayers and users of municipal services for the bulk of its income. The latter cannot be burdened beyond their means to increase the Municipality’s income so that all demands or requests raised during the community participation processes, can be met. There is therefore bound to be some disappointments."
The total proposed budget for 2019/20 amounts to R 1,450,104,573.
This consists of a capital budget of R 277 904 795 and an operating budget of R 1,172,199,778.
The capital budget amounts to 19.2 per cent of the total budget and the operating budget to 80.8 per cent of the total budget.
The following paragraph also evoked some serious reactions in the light of the municipality's alleged wastage of taxpayers' money on unnecessary, costly projects and the appointment of consultants for issues that should be addressed by the huge and well-paid staff corps themselves. The "unnecessary parking and boardwalks on the dunes along Beyers Street, as well as the appointment of a multi-disciplinary team to develop a framework for a new proposed Tourist Route in the CBD, were mentioned in this regard, especially since a complete study and formal proposal for such a Tourist Route apparently have been done already at great cost by the Tourism Bureau a few years ago.
It must be emphasised that it is of absolute importance that capital projects need to be prioritised to ensure that available funds are allocated towards the most important projects. A municipality will always have the challenge to allocate its limited resources amongst the vast needs of its community.
The proposed capital budget shows an increase of 35.1 per cent compared to the revised capital budget for 2018/19. The 2019/20 capital budget will be allocated mainly to:
Technical Services R 142.3 million;
Community Services R 22.6 million;
Planning & Integrated Services R 101.2 million.
The capital budget will be funded with an amount of R 105.98 million from the Capital Replacement Reserve, while the balance will be funded from external sources. Human Settlements funding of R 30.10 million and external loans of R 103.70 million will be the biggest source of external funding.
It is acknowledged that the funding of the Operational budget in the outer years as well as the levels of financing capital budgets from the Capital Replacement Reserve, are slightly above Council’s policy.
Management has been tasked to revisit this as part of the community participation process and table a more credible budget within the acceptable levels to the budget steering committee for consideration together with the tabling of the budget for consideration.
Budget: What about us pensioners?
* Interesting that the danger of municipalities' Carte Blanche with property valuation and taxes was highlighted decades ago already . . .