Residents slam 12% increase

JON HOUZET

RESIDENTS of Ward 10 slammed the municipal budget at a public meeting on Tuesday night, with many saying a 12% rates increase will hit pensioners hardest.

They also questioned why the municipality had budgeted for a general salary increase of 10,5% when people in the local private sector were receiving an average 5% increase.

The meeting at the Port Alfred Civic Centre drew about 100 people, a much higher turnout than the first attempt to hold the meeting on April 30. Present were mayor Sipho Tandani, two councillors and several municipal officials.

Ndlambe has budgeted for income of R270,6-million, of which R179,9-million would come from rates and services and R90,7-million from grants.

“Ndlambe is very grant-dependent,” said finance director Howard Dredge, “but grants are being phased out.”

He said municipalities would continue to receive an equitable share to cover indigents, but it would be worked out according to a new formula.

Tandani lamented that money was being pumped into “well-off” municipalities like Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City, while poor municipalities like Ndlambe were struggling.

Ndlambe expects to receive R75-million from rates, R28,9-million for water, R55,6-million for electricity, R15-million for sewerage and sanitation and R16-million for refuse removal.

Expenditure has been budgeted at R265-million, of which R77,7-million will go to salaries, R144,8-million to general expenditure (bulk water and electricity purchases, Manelec fees, insurance, debt impairment and remuneration of councillors), R14,8-million for repairs and maintenance and grant spending of R58-million.

Dredge admitted the budget for repairs and maintenance was too low. “Somehow we need to increase expenditure,” he said. “It’s killing us.”

He said the R5-million difference between the income and expenditure budgets would go towards capital expenditure.

The rates policy has been amended to narrow the gap between business and residential rates. Dredge said this was to accommodate submissions from local businesses that business property rates were too high in a town where business was seasonal.

This would not affect Ndlambe’s income as residential and agricultural rates would increase proportionally, he said.

In an effort to make a dent in the R100-million in arrears owed by municipal account holders, Ndlambe would start attaching houses, disconnecting electricity and restricting water, he said.

“We’re starting to protect our paying customers so they’re not hit with huge debt provisions,” he said.

Ndlambe Action Group chairman Derek Victor reminded municipal officials the national Treasury had advised municipalities to limit increases to 6%.

Victor also disputed Dredge’s assertion that the salaries portion of the budget was 35% of the total.

“If you exclude grants, salaries make up about 46% of the budget,” he said.

“Ndlambe wants a salary increase of 10,5% whereas Buffalo City has limited its increase to 7,5% and the Port Elizabeth Metro to 6,5%,” he said.

He said Ndlambe was proposing increases without having done a means test to see how affordable it was for local people, reminding Dredge he had already urged a means test last year.

Dredge admitted the municipality had still not done a means test, but was looking into it.

Tim Cockbain, chairman of the Port Alfred Residents and Ratepayers Association, said the 12% increase was “totally unacceptable”.

He estimated about 50% of Port Alfred’s residents were pensioners, whose pensions had not escalated. “How are they going to afford to stay in town?” he asked.

Productivity of municipal workers was also a hot topic at the meeting, with many residents expressing outrage over seeing groups of workers standing around while one or two did the work.

Resident Mike Varela suggested a “pay freeze” for management at the municipality, which drew hearty applause from the audience.

But Dredge said, aside from the top five Section 57 employees, “I don’t think senior managers will entertain freezing salaries”. They had their own central bargaining, he said.

Varela, a local surfer, again raised the issue of beach safety and absence of lifeguards on Port Alfred’s beaches.

“Tourism is our core business and our beaches are a landmark,” he said. “I’ve heard it said there is no intention to budget for year-round lifesavers. I think that’s horrifying.”

“The soul of this town is sick. It’s a vampire town – suck the tourists in and suck them dry,” said Varela. “At least put some money into fixing our beaches.”

Tandani said the municipality was “not sleeping” on the issue of beach safety. “The department (of community protection services) is working on a plan,” he said.

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