Widespread opposition to budget

JON HOUZET

WIDESPREAD opposition to the municipal budget gathered momentum after a public meeting last week, with a number of ratepayer groups and individuals lodging objections before Monday’s 4pm deadline.

The Ndlambe Ratepayers’ Forum (NRF), an umbrella group of several ratepayer groups, said the proposed 12% increase in rates on domestic properties “cannot be accepted”.

NRF chairman Tim Cockbain said the NRF had had discussions with municipal officials and sent a letter to mayor Sipho Tandani, “objecting most strongly” to the 12% increase.

“This increase, together with the proposed reduction of the rates rebate from 15% to 12% actually means an increase of almost 12.5% in total,” said Cockbain. “This is double the inflation rate of 5.9% and also double the government guideline of 6%. Our district municipality of Cacadu is only budgeting for a 5% increase in expenses. Why then is Ndlambe so out of line?”

“With a rates base made up mostly of pensioners whose income only increases by between 0% and 5% per annum this increase cannot be accepted,” Cockbain continued.

“We believe that with better financial and staff management by municipal officials, Ndlambe could also limit the increases to the inflation and government guidelines.

The comment and objection submitted by the Ndlambe Action Group (Nag) attracted popular support through mass e-mails.

Nag chairman Derek Victor said increases of the size proposed by Ndlambe “have been decried in other municipalities, yet for at least the third year in a row, Ndlambe seems bent on more than doubling the suggested increases”.

“The compounding nature of such increases is impoverishing our residents and is not sustainable,” said Victor.

“Yet again, (as per last year) the municipality has failed to carry out a means test in the municipal area and seems to have formulated its budget to achieve perceived required revenues as opposed to addressing community imperatives.”

One of the biggest concerns of the Kenton-on-Sea Ratepayers Association (Kosra) is that Kenton is not getting its fair share of the budget.

“We currently do not have any spades, forks, lawn mowers, edge trimmers allocated to us,” said Kosra chairman Simon Oliver, who added that the current system of having one team of workers providing services to all the communities from Alexandria to Kenton-on-Sea allowed staff who are underperforming to “hide behind the excuse that they are working somewhere else”.

Kosra has also requested the rates revenue increase be limited to 10%.

Kosra and the NRF shared concerns over the R14.8-million allocated for repairs and maintenance, which represents just 7% of total expenditure in the budget

“It’s hopelessly inadequate,” said Oliver. “The conditions of facilities and amenities in the whole of Ndlambe are in a poor state and more funds are needed to attend to the most basic needs. In the absence of a detailed study, a figure of at least R20-million is suggested to make any meaningful impact.”

Cockbain pointed out the draft maintenance budget of only 7% of the total was only half the government guideline of 14%.

He expressed concern that in an effort to appease ratepayers, municipal management might “take the easy way out again as they have in the last three of four years by reducing the budget through simply cutting out the capital portion”.

Kosra recommended that salary increases be limited to 7%.

Picking up from a statement by resident Mike Varela, Kosra also called for section 57 employees to set a precedent on “endless unrealistic salary increases” by applying a freeze to their salaries for this budget.

In response to finance director Howard Dredge’s comments at the public meeting that, aside from Section 57s, Ndlambe is bound by salary increases agreed between SALGA and central bargaining by the unions, Kosra said the negotiation resulted year after year in unrealistically high increases, and “it is time that the municipalities as a body harden their bargaining procedures to avoid what is leading to certain economic suicide”.

Municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa was off sick and municipal manager Rolly Dumezweni did not respond to a request for comment.

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