(Picture:- Knysna’s Executive Mayor Aubrey Tsengwa may have some convincing to do on Wednesday 31 May)
The barrage of public objections to the 2023 – 2024 Municipal Budget sent to the authorities by the 19 May deadline has certainly made a difference – but residents will have to wait until this afternoon (31 May) to know if any changes are going to be substantial enough. The council will debate the Knysna Municipality’s Final 2023-2024 Medium Term Framework Budget report at 11:00 in the Council Chambers.
There is little doubt that this will result in hours of heated discussion.
In the Councillors’ Workshop held on Thursday, 25 May, Executive Mayor Aubrey Tsengwa reportedly opened with the following comments:“We have taken the budget to all 11 Wards. What transpired out of the process is serious outcries in terms of the rates increases in almost all Wards, and we have received an influx of comments from the public. We will draft a consolidated response to the Public Participation written submissions.
“We have dealt with some of the comments, and we, the Government, have listened to the people by recommending that the overall increase in property rates be reduced from 33% down to 17% to meet people halfway and the 18.65% increase in electricity we have considered reducing to 15%.”
He added a caution, however. “These amendments, as a result of the outcry and the Government meeting the people halfway, will result in a deficit of R59 million.”
The Acting Chief Financial Officer, Londiwe Sotshede, concurred, stating that“The implementation of the new GENERAL Valuation Roll has caused a big outcry from customers whose properties have increased in value by more than 100% and Provincial Treasury has recommended a reduction in the rate in the Rand as per regulations, together with an adjustment downwards in the electricity tariff. This reduction has resulted in a decrease in the overall property rates revenue by R39 million and electricity revenue by R16.7 million. It is now proposed that the exclusion threshold be amended and will now remain as per last year at R50 000. The tariff for residential properties will be reduced by 10%, and the tariff for business properties will be reduced by 9%”.
Ward 9 Councillor Sharon Sabbagh, who has been at the forefront of the fight to have the budget drastically changed and submitted an objection petition with over 4500 signatures objecting to the tabled document, is convinced that the amendments proposed are nowhere near enough.
“My view is that this is NOT acceptable; however, I await the Amended Budget & IDP before commenting further,” she said. “It’s important that we save Knysna from this illegal budget. Otherwise, we will end up with a ghost town where most people can’t afford to live.”
She has called for residents of Greater Knysna to show their dissatisfaction by attending the council meeting en masse.
“Council meetings are open to the public, and residents have every right to attend. Please do,” she enthused, “It is time the residents make their voices heard,” she said, encouraging people to bring placards to show solidarity as the petition is presented to the Mayor and Municipal Manager.”
Asked for comment, Sedgefield Ratepayers and Residents Association (SR&RA) Chairman Andy Brough said, “We believe that ratepayers will see an adjusted cent in the rand on property rates; however, the Municipality must ensure the alignment of the entire budget with the integrated development plan (IDP). SR&RA notes that the IDP is still under review. Mayor Tsengwa assures us he has heard the Sedgefield community’s concerns, but it still needs to be determined how service delivery will be achieved at the ward level. Even if this budget is passed, legislation stipulates that the Municipality must conduct its affairs in a manner consistent with the IDP.”
Sedgefield residents are also eager to see if the funds allocated in previous years for housing in Smutsville but not specifically mentioned in the proposed 2023-2024 budget document, will reappear.