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Increased Rates on Vacant Land

We are finding ourselves in a precarious state of affairs. The budget and in particular the inclusion of a new property rate of 63.4% on vacant land has drawn a great deal of attention and the cause of much discontent. For example, a July account for an Erf valued at R430.000 shows an overall increase of 26%, equivalent to R100 per month. The reality is that on vacant beach front and mountain side land where properties are valued anything from R1mil to R2mil and more, owners can expect a substantial increase of between R400 and R500 per month. In addition these undeveloped properties are already being charged ‘availability’ tariffs for water (incl. infrastructure), sewage (incl. infrastructure) and refuse removal. The latter two are for services not even provided.

We requested the methodology used to determine the rates increase as it is our claim that they arrived at this unrealistic figure so as to generate additional revenue to balance the budget. The reasons given by the municipality for the introduction of a new category of ratable property of 'vacant land ' which will be rated more highly than the category 'residential property ' is inter alia, the following:

  • To encourage property development.
  • To encourage densification in line with the integrated development plan.
  • It is preferable to the municipality to have properties within its jurisdiction which are developed and occupied.
  • The need to encourage residential occupation of properties, as this is a municipality where many people seek to retire.
  • The category of vacant land will be in line with the actual use and not just the permitted use.

The timing of these increased rates especially during a seriously depressed property market will be detrimental to retired or about to be retired folk. The municipality however fails to address the important issue of whether our ailing infrastructure has capacity to sufficiently maintain and efficiently cope with such additional development they are now encouraging and the fact that it will place a further burden on the financial constraints of the budget.

The downturn in the economy and very scant returns on investments made investment in properties a better option especially for people in their retirement years. Many retired people acquired second properties to supplement their limited pensions as they do not qualify for government pensions. Furthermore, some purchased the land to protect the environment and in particular the biosphere reserve.

A recent national survey confirms that for municipalities to currently remain sustainable, maintain ailing infrastructure and improve on service delivery, they continue to raise rates from their main source of revenue which in our area is the small base of ratepayers. The 30% chunk on our budget for salaries is another major contributing factor which we simply cannot afford. We cannot be expected to subsidize the increasing migration of people and the creation of human settlements. This simply cannot continue unabated as services are becoming unaffordable for retired people. This formula is not sustainable. Alternative sources need to be created. Many people in the area who qualify as indigent households make no contribution to taxes but nevertheless have voting rights.

Councillor Krige has subsequently met with officials of the Finance Department in Hermanus. She is in the process of arranging a meeting with affected parties to discuss this matter further.

Relaxation and Departure of Building Restrictions
There are an increasing number of applications for building line restrictions to be relaxed. These are often to legalize encroachments of existing dwellings or to circumvent terms of Title Deeds. Of concern is that this trend is likely to increase as it has been mentioned that Province intends passing legislation permitting second dwellings on properties. The municipality is also encouraging densification. Obviously all this is to raise additional revenue. This will certainly change the face of the village as we currently know it.

Roads and Stormwater Infrastructure
Representation was made to Councillor Krige after the recent heavy down pours which caused flooding of many roads some of which became unsurpassable. Most of the roads no longer have storm water drains, either they are over grown or have filled up with sand over the years. Consequently, roads become streams or storm water drains. Some houses were also flooded. The Councillor was prompt in arranging a high profile municipal delegation from Hermanus to carry out an inspection. Consequently, an inspection report is to be tabled in Council emphasizing short to long term solutions. Consensus is that our roads which are predominantly gravel is in desperate need of upgrading and that there is a lack of proper storm water infrastructure. As one can appreciate no provision has been made in the current financial year to undertake this enormous task.

Public Participation Process regarding a Proposed Controlled Burn
A group of concerned homeowners resident in the Sunny Seas area of Betty’s Bay have made representations to the Municipality requesting a controlled burn of the area on the mountain side bordering onto their properties.
Motivation for their request is:

  • For ecological reasons; Fynbos needs to burn every 12 to 15 years to allow for regeneration before species are lost;
  • The area last burnt some 21 years ago. The burn in June 2010 was extinguished before the entire area could be burnt and as a result the area has become very dry and has the potential to turn into a disaster should a fire occur in the area;
  • If this is not attended to then the area burnt in 2010 could be totally destroyed should another fire occur;
  • This area has limited fire hydrant capacity and residents are concerned that protection of the infrastructure would not be possible should a fire occur.

An initial meeting was held in June 2013 with affected residents and various stakeholders such as Cape Nature, Nature Conservation, Overstrand Fire Services, Ratepayers’ Association and Volunteer Firefighters to discuss the matter and establish a plan of action. A sub-committee was established which met in July and the following were proposed:

  • A controlled burn to take place at an appropriate time along the mountain side eastward from the Botanical Gardens through to the western entrance of Seaview Road in Sunny Seas;
  • Ensure consensus is reached with all stakeholders concerning the intent to burn natural vegetation on private and municipal land by means of a Public Participation process;
  • Combine corporate resources and support structures to ensure effective fire management preparation and the implementation of the fire management plan;
  • Ensure that infrastructure and property is afforded adequate protection;
  • Arrange a pre burning meeting with stakeholders in preparation of the event.

It is essential that the Municipality, property owners and voluntary firefighters work together to reduce the fire risk. A public meeting was held on Saturday, 24 August 2013 at 10h00 in the Crassula Hall.

It is surprising the number of residents who prevail upon the Association for assistance in municipal matters despite the fact that they are not members of the Association. We nevertheless assist where we can. The Association is represented on the Ward Committee where it continues to engage the municipality on all aspects affecting the village. Whilst our Association has the largest membership of any ratepayers association in the Overstrand Municipality, our membership has shown a decrease of some 30 members over the last year mainly due to non-payment of annual fees which currently stands at R55 per member per year. The stronger our membership the more influence we will have in pursuing our objectives. Residents are encouraged to become members.

Chamber of Business
At a recent meeting of the Association at which the Councillor was also present, it was felt that there is a need for the business sector in Betty’s Bay to seriously give consideration to establishing a Chamber of Business in line with those that already exist in other villages. It is felt that it is important for the business sector to forge stronger links so as to collectively deal with wide ranging changes that are taking place. A representative of the Chamber could also serve on the Executive of the BBRA. Councillor Krige would in any case be glad to meet with all business owners to discuss matters of concern. An invitation has already been sent out to those that are already on our database. We await the response.

Stony Point Project
We attended a meeting on the progress of the development of the project. Of great concern is that inadequate provision has been made for visitors parking and that tour busses are known to have left without tourists being dropped off because of the lack of parking. We foresee that during peak periods adjacent roads will become congested. This will cause great disruption to neighbouring properties as the roads in question are too narrow to allow for both parking and passing traffic. It is also likely that tourists will be forced to park on the verges of neighbouring properties.

The many incidents of theft out of vehicles and from unlocked houses remain a concern. The majority of these cases can easily be described as shear negligence on the part of the owners especially when valuables are left in vehicles which in some cases were left unlocked.
The message of securing valuables and securing ones homes from unlawful access is not getting through to our residents and/or their visitors. Far too many incidents over the last couple of weeks involve the failure of occupants to adhere to simple precautionary measures of securing their properties. Far too many people are entertaining elsewhere on their properties whilst doors and windows are either left open or unlocked. Residents need to take more responsibility for the safety of their properties. Far too many residents retire for the night and leave windows open and alarms switched off. Quite a number of housebreakings are taking place whilst owners are in residence.
There have been far too many incidents of theft out of vehicles where cameras, laptops, cellphones, wallets are being left in vehicles in full view of opportunistic thieves.

Incident of Fire
We had another veld fire which threatened neighbouring properties in Disa Road. The fire was caused by the occupants throwing braai coals into the bush. House was rented out for the weekend to a group of 12 visitors who held a party throughout the weekend. Our Volunteer Firefighters were quick on the scene to extinguish the fire. Once again they need to be congratulated.

Friends of the Library
A presentation was made to the Ward Committee for the development of a Local History Collection to be housed in the Betty’s Bay Library. Friends of the Library under the leadership of Pip Prinsloo and her team have already received an amount of special articles, newspaper cuttings and photographs of historic value and are appealing to anyone wishing to consider donating any such material and/or aid in administering and preserving the collection to contact Pip on 028 272 9949. The relevant collection will be accessible by the public.

Some Precautionary Measures that need to be taken:

  • Be constantly on the look-out for suspicious looking characters or vehicles and do not hesitate to report them to the SAPS and/or the NW;
  • Ensure that all windows can be properly locked and are burglar proofed. This will also prevent invasion by baboons;
  • Never sleep with windows open unless burglar proofing is fitted, even in upper storey rooms where a window is situated near a drainpipe;
  • Ensure that external doors are fitted with adequate locks;
  • Never leave door keys hanging in the door;
  • Don’t leave spare keys lying around in your house. Place them in a safe place;
  • Firearm owners must ensure that their firearms are kept safe at all times. Firearms must always be under your direct control or locked away in a firearm safe;
  • Never leave ladders, scaffolding, axes and spades outside. These are potential housebreaking tools and weapons;
  • Ensure that an intruder detection system is connected directly to a security company providing a 24 hour service. Ensure that the system is always activated when away from home. Ensure that the system is periodically checked and maintained and upgraded where necessary;
  • When out walking always make sure that your cellphone is concealed. Never leave cellphones lying on a seat in the car;
  • Be alert at all times to any strangers, perhaps disguised as workmen or vendors, who may be loitering in the neighbourhood. Also be aware of job seekers;
  • Look out for suspicious vehicles that cruise the area at intervals and who may be keeping houses under observation. People and/or vehicles giving rise to suspicion should be reported to the SAPS, along with the fullest possible personal and vehicle descriptions;
  • Ensure that front and back doors are not left open or unlocked;
  • Keep garage doors closed and locked;