Bay rates appeals to cost millions

Patrick Cull and Tabelo Timse HERALD REPORTERS

NELSON Mandela Bay ratepayers will have to fork out millions of rands to pay travel and accommodation expenses for board members appointed to decide on appeals lodged by irate home-owners regarding exorbitant increases in their property rates.

And despite appeals against the controversial property evaluation system being launched as far back as June last year, the board is not yet functional.

Due to alleged appointment irregularities, the municipality has now asked Local Government MEC Thoko Xasa to disband the board and re-advertise for new members, a move which is likely to cause further delays.

The valuation of some 7000 properties increased or decreased by more than 10 per cent of the original amount as a result of challenges to the initial valuation, while some 600 people are in dispute with the price the metro put on their properties.

In terms of the law, the department of local government is required to establish an appeals board and duly did so, appointing one member from Jeffreys Bay and three from East London.

However, the Property Evaluations Act requires that a representative from Nelson Mandela Bay be on the board when it reviews appeals from the city.

Metro chief financial officer Kevin Jacoby said: “In terms of the regulations the MEC must consult and supply written motivations to the mayor when appointing members who do not reside within the jurisdiction of the municipality. It is therefore evident that the MEC for local government has not complied with the procedures that must be followed in the appointment of members of the appeal board.”

Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said that the municipality had written a letter to Xasa suggesting she re-advertise for the appeals board.

Jacoby said the chairman is paid R3000 a day and ordinary members R2500 in addition to the costs of accommodation and transport. This bill, which would run into several millions of rand, would have had to be paid by the citizens of Nelson Mandela Bay.

Jacoby said the metro had calculated that if each case took just 10 minutes to complete that would cost the municipality R1,7- million for accommodation – a four-star hotel is mandatory – and transport in addition to the fees paid to the board members. The whole process would take between eight and nine months. A more likely scenario, he said, was that each case would take at least a minimum of 20 minutes to complete, in which case the bill for accommodation and transport would rise to R3,4-million plus the fees to the four board members and take 18 months to complete.

The appeals board process in Cape Town has continued for some two years.

Although Jacoby assured councillors attending a recent budget and treasury meeting that the municipality had the best interests of property owners at heart, councillor Leon de Villiers (DA) said the process was taking too long and frustrating property owners who had lodged objections.

The final valuation roll was presented to the municipality on January 31 last year and implemented on July 1.

During that period objections against the valuations of properties were received and investigated. Letters regarding the outcome were then forwarded to the objectors.

Jacoby said objectors who were still not in agreement were then given the opportunity to request that they be provided with the valuers‘ reasons or to lodge an appeal.

During the general valuation process a total of 249669 properties were valued. More than 10000 objections (4,4% of all properties valued) were received.

Irate homeowners felt the hike in property rates could force them to downgrade so they could pay the new rates.

Following the increases one resident, Summerstrand pensioner Patrick Goldstone, 72, said his rates had increased by 107 per cent from R395 a month to R820.

“What really interests me is the fact that the person who was evaluating my house did not even come to the front door or enter the property,” he said.

“This leaves questions about how such a person could carry out a reliable valuation on my property the way he went about the process.”

Goldstone said the municipal correspondence showed his property was valued at R2,5-million.

He had decided to employ the services of two independent estate agents to value the property . They valued it at between R600000 and R650000. Some property owners have had an increase of as much as 568%, which translates to a rates hike from R420 to R2807 a month.

Major flaws in the evaluation process were reported early this year, with claims of underqualified valuators being used and up to 800 properties being valued twice – with widely differing results.
Source :The Herald