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Bitou Municipality

Twelfth Mayoral Newsletter – December 2013

We have come to the end of a very busy 2013 year and I am pleased to report that we have made considerable progress in this time.

Financial Situation

The good news is that Bitou is no longer insolvent! - but we still have a long way to go.

We now have an effective and active external Audit Committee chaired by Ivan Boardman CA.

As part of our revenue enhancement program we are in the process of closing serious loopholes in the non-payment of individual rates and augmentation fees which had resulted in other ratepayers subsidizing certain businesses and developments.

As you may recall, the R28 million allocated by the Western Cape Government for the purchase of land for housing was misspent on operational costs by the previous Council. We had to refund Province out of Bitou funds. The developer sued Bitou Municipality claiming he was entitled to the R28 million which the previous Council had agreed to pay him for his land in spite of independent valuations of R4 to 5 million. I am pleased to inform you that, after a lengthy battle, we have won our case in the Supreme Court of Appeal. Had we lost the case it would have cost us a further R28 million plus legal costs.

As a cost saving measure all councillors, for the second consecutive year, have forgone salary increases.

In addition, and more importantly, it has been agreed that the Municipal Manager and all his Directors will no longer be paid performance bonuses.

The Organizational Re-Design is complete. The organogram design with regard to staff complement and competency is being implemented.
This has streamlined the organization resulting in reduced wage and labour costs and better efficiency.

The following appointments to vacant positions were made during the year:-
Director, Corporate Services : Reginald Smith
Manager, Supply Chain : Pedro Peters
Manager, Human Resources : Tanya Wildeman

Planning

I am pleased to say that the six year backlog of planning approvals has been cleared.

Approval time is currently running at about 90 days and we are working to reduce this to the legal requirement of 30 days.

Tourism

I would like to congratulate our new Tourism Board for the huge strides made in marketing and branding Plett as a first choice destination and a fun place to be.

Events such as the Downhill Skateboarding, the Air Show (organized together with the Hanger Owners) were very successful.

The Matric Rage was a hugely successful crime-free event. I must thank all organizers and supporters who worked so hard to keep our young people safe.

These events have a major positive impact on our local economy. I recommend that you read the regular Tourism newsletter and events calendar.

Blue Drop and Blue Flags

I am pleased to inform you that we have maintained our Blue Drop status for water quality and Green Drop status for our sewerage treatment works.
In addition we have again won the Wilson Award by the Water Institute of SA for the quality of our sewerage effluent.

We have Blue Flag status for three of our beaches – Robberg 5, Keurbooms Beach and Nature’s Valley Beach.

Lookout Beach is rapidly returning to its former glory. In anticipation we are already building an ablution facility and are aiming for Blue Flag status again.

Infrastructure

We have been able to provide funding for the upgrading and maintenance of roads, pump stations, underground services etc.
In addition we have established a capital replacement reserve of R5 million. This is not nearly enough but is a good start

Strategic Planning

A major Strategic Planning session took place over three days in November.

Councillors, the Municipal Manager and all his directors and middle management staff participated.

Unfortunately the opposition councillors chose to boycott this important workshop.

The following issues were addressed:

  • Social and Economic overview
  • Institutional Analyses
  • Bulk Services
  • Strategic Services
  • Strategic interventions
  • The Way Forward

It is not practical to report details in this newsletter but I believe that the workshop has served to identify and make everyone aware of the challenges facing Bitou and align and focus their thinking to finding and implementing solutions.

Probably the main issue addressed was the rapid growth of the Bitou population and the resulting bulk infrastructure and institutional requirements to cope with this in the future.

Bitou is the second fastest growing municipality in the country. The population has increased from 29,200 in 2001 to 49,162 in 2011 and is expected to continue along this path.

This rapid growth presents huge socio-economic challenges particularly the creation of jobs.

Sustainable economic development has to be our number one priority.
This will obviously include tourism but will have to extend to other fields as well.

At a recent public report back meeting by Donald Grant, MEC for Education, he indicated that the Provincial Government has plans for the establishment of a regional economic development node in George. Bitou will be an integral part of this and we look forward to using this opportunity to expand our economy.

A Local Economic Development Advisory Forum has been established under the chairmanship of Neville Petersen. This body will be the link to the economic development node in George.

Landfill Site / Transfer Station

I regret to say that we still sit with problems and challenges. I apologise for the current distressing state of the landfill site.

There has been serious mismanagement of the site and we have replaced the site manager.

Knysna assists us by allowing our refuse trucks to drop our waste there and they truck it on to Mossel Bay. However Knysna has not been able to do this in season, hence the backup of waste over the past two weeks. This was exacerbated by the breakdown of two trucks.

We have increased the number of trucks running to Mossel Bay over the holiday season.

There has been a delay in the identification of the Transfer Station site due to problems with the necessary approvals. This has been resolved and building is programmed to commence in April next year.

Airport

Management of the airport is back in Council hands but it runs at a loss and we still believe we do not have the capacity to run the airport.
In January Council will embark on a Public Participation Process on how best to deal with the airport.

Small Boat Harbour

There has been veiled criticism of the Council on the issue of the SBH as evidenced by the following:-

“The municipality has allowed the developer to launch investigations but has revealed little of its own stance on the Small Boat Harbour.”

“Why does the Council not stop the process?”
“What is the Council doing about the SBH?”
“Is the Council in favour of the SBH?”
I would like to clarify a few points.

  • The current council is bound by a contract with the developer which it inherited from a previous council.
  • The contract is open-ended and has no time limitation.
  • This council put the developer on terms to either proceed with the development process or abandon it altogether.
  • This was done because if the status quo remained there could be no upgrading of any of the facilities at Central beach or on any of the other land involved.
  • The developer chose to proceed with the development process.
  • Council has rigorously followed the stipulated procedures of the application process and will continue to do so.
  • It should be borne in mind that there are groups both for and against this project.
  • We will not comment on the merits or otherwise of the proposed project before having received the final proposal and carefully evaluated it.
    To do otherwise would indicate bias and jeopardize the final decision of Council. This could result in litigation with serious financial implications for Bitou.
  • Council’s final decision will take into account all relevant factors including all concerns and issues raised by the community and will be made in the best interests of Bitou.

Unfortunately the application process is a long and drawn out affair that cannot be short circuited so please bear with us.

Rural Rates

I would like to put the issue of Rural Lifestyle assessment rates into context by firstly explaining the legal situation.

The legal framework

In terms of the provisions of the Municipal Property Rates Act, Act 6 of 2004 (MPRA), a municipality may determine different categories for the purpose of applying assessment rates.

As part of the revision of the property rates policy for the 2013/2014 budget cycle and the MTREF (Medium Term Revenue and Expenditure Framework), the council determined a rural lifestyle property category where a distinction is made between agricultural land used for bona fide farming activities and agricultural land used for residential purposes being Rural Lifestyle.

Why were discounts given to Agriculture?

The intention of a lower tariff (or higher discount) applicable to agricultural land as contained in the rates policy as well as legal prescripts was to lessen the impact that the implementation of the MPRA would have on farming as a sector contributing to the economy and not to arbitrarily grant rebates to agricultural land owners.
Are services linked to Assessment rates?

No, there are no services specified or directly linked to the payment made for assessment rates.

Urban residents who are provided with services such as refuse collection, sewerage removal and processing, water and electricity availability and consumption pay for these services in addition to assessment rates.
The municipality has the power to levy rates to pay for the rendering of general municipal services and administrative and governance expenditure.

Although there aren’t municipal services directly linked to the payment of assessment rates, the fact that general municipal services are in a lesser extent within reach of agricultural land owners is acknowledged.

herefore a reduced tariff for rural lifestyle owners has been determined by council which effectively equals a 50% rebate compared to urban residential property rates.

What about bona-fide farmers?

Bona-fide farmers receive a 75% rebate in terms of the national determination made by the minister of Finance in accordance with the regulations.

The onus is on the owner of a property to prove that the dominant use of the property is farming. This proof can be in the form of a SARS registration or assessment as a farmer or financial statements of the farming unit signed off by a registered accountant or auditor. In addition the municipality will upon receipt of a request perform an in-loco inspection to confirm the use of the property as a farming unit.

We have had meetings with representatives of the rural communities and it has become clear that implementation of this policy does give rise to a number of problems which we are prepared to address on an individual basis with ratepayers.

For example if anyone, e.g. a pensioner with a fixed income, is put under extreme financial pressure we may be able to assist in accordance with our indigent policy, or if anyone finds themselves with some unique problem please come and see us with evidence of your situation.
Unfortunately we cannot grant additional rebates in this financial year. The current revenue budget includes the rates on rural lifestyle category at a 50% rebate and not more. If additional rebates were to be given the municipality would need to cut expenditure on service delivery by an amount equal to the additional rebate given.

Considering current economic circumstances, the limited funding available for service delivery as well as the need for services already outweighing the resources, it is just not possible to give additional rebates.
I have, however, undertaken to take a proposal to Council in the new year to waive interest on outstanding rates.

I am sure there will be more discussions in the near future to iron out any more problems and ensure that everyone is fairly treated.

Ward Committees
Ward committees are up and running in all seven wards.
There are problems to iron out in some of the wards but the Ward 2 (Plett Town) is very active and keeping Cllr Wayne Craig on his toes!

Communication
As promised in my last newsletter Cllr Wayne Craig and I have held numerous meeting and communications with the various Ratepayers Associations, Business Chamber and other stakeholders.

Keurboom’s Electricity Problems
I am aware of a number of problems of supply interruptions and have been investigating the matter. I will meet with the affected parties together with the relevant officials early in the new year.
Some of the problems are issues concerning ESKOM but there seem to be others that are our direct responsibility.

In conclusion, I ask all of us to never forget Madiba’s Legacy. Bitou mourns his passing and celebrates his life.

Once again I would like to thank everyone for the positive criticism and support I am receiving on a daily basis. Hopefully 2014 will be a much better year as we turn our town around, step by step.

I would like to use this opportunity to wish all the residents and holiday makers of Bitou a blessed Festive Season and a prosperous New Year.

Memory Booysen
(Executive Mayor)

 

 

Mayor Memory Booysen