Confusion reigns about municipal accounts

THABAZIMBI – According to the Bible Caesar must be paid what is due to him, but in Thabazimbi it very hard to find out exactly what is due to Caesar, or rather, the local municipality.
Because of the confusion round municipal accounts it seems that there is a very high rate of non-payers, residents who are not paying either their property taxes or their services accounts. Up to 78% of residents are not paying their accounts. This high percentage could be partly due to the fact that farmers have not been paying property tax because the system in Thabazimbi is not up and running and they have not received accounts.
According to Gert Snyman, president of the Thabazimbi Ratepayers’ Association, it is wrong for residents not to pay and that the Ratepayers’ Association does not condone the non-payments of accounts.
He explains that, if there are problems with the rendering of services by the municipality and processes of negotiation resulted in no improvement, a dispute is declared and property tax and service payments are then paid to service providers instead of the municipality.
At this stage however, the Ratepayers’ Association, urges all people to pay their accounts. Snyman added that there is no place in his organisation for defaulting debtors. Anybody who does not pay at this stage will face huge accumulated accounts of thousands of rands in the future.
A debt collector has recently been appointed by the municipality and any resident or business who is in arrears on their service accounts will have to start paying up or the services will be cut.
The question, says Snyman, is not whether to pay or not, but how much.
Much of the confusion regarding the property tax has existed since July 2008 when the new tax system was implemented nationally where property owners are taxed not only on the value of their plots, but the market value of the whole property, including buildings. In Thabazimbi a high rate of R0,0085/R was implemented over which a lot of unhappiness existed.
Since then Die Kwêvoël has published repeatedly that residents can pay their old property tax rates (such as were paid during the first half of 2008), because this information was communicated to the public by the Chairman’s Forum and Thabazimbi Ratepayers’ Association after negotiations with representatives of the town council. Even the mayor advised Thabazimbi residents to pay the old tax figures at an IDP (public) meeting in February this year.
He also indicated at the meeting that the tariff of R0,0085/R was very high and that a lower tariff of R0,00175 was being considered.
According to municipal regulations a tariff cannot be approved and implemented unless a rates policy document has been approved, which means that the implementation of a tariff of R0,0085/R is illegal if the rates policy was not approved. Uncertainty existed, and still exists, as to whether the rates policy document was approved by the council.
The financial department at the Thabazimbi Municipality levies property rates according to this rates policy document, and according to the tariff of R0,0085. It remains inexplicable why certain stipulations in this document are not implemented. Why do residents get told then by the mayor not to pay the new tariff, why are farmers not receiving accounts, why is there a new and different rates policy document available for public comment and why are there hikes of more than 40% experienced in property tax since July last year, while the rates policy document, which is adhered to by municipality, clearly states that in the first year the property rates are not to increase by more than 40% and the rest must be phased in?
At this stage it seems that, despite the mayor’s conciliatory offer for the payment by resident of a lower property tax, the system inside the financial department does not make provision for this. Is it due to a lack of internal communication or capacity?
In one instance a business in Thabazimbi, which used to pay R286 a month in property tax, received an account of R1700 per month in July 2008, an increase of almost 600%. The maximum increase this business was supposed to absorb was R114, which means that is should be paying about R400 per month.
The owner of this business paid the R1700 for 7 months, but decided not to pay February’s property tax, since the business was probably in credit with the municipality. After two months, it received an account for more than R4000.
Upon enquiry an employee of the business was told that if the business refused to pay the property tax, services such as water and lights will be cut. The municipality acceded afterwards that as long as the services are paid for no cuts will occur. Gert Snyman of the Ratepayers’ Association also assured Die Kwêvoël that no cuts in services may occur if service accounts are fully paid.
The question now remains whether it is fair to expect of residents to pay unreasonably high property taxes in the hope that one day, when this mess is sorted out, that the wheel will turn and their money be repaid or accounts credited? No system is in place to accommodate the law abiding citizens who want to pay, all be it not necessarily the huge amounts they are charged with, because of financial restrictions or uneasiness about the reversal of credit by the municipality.