Mixed reaction to SRA

JOHN HARVEY

While the City has now approved the establishment of the Little Mowbray and Rosebank Improvement District (LMRID), some residents remain sceptical of the Special Ratings Area and have warned many people will be “in for a shock” when their first account arrives in July (“New SRA on the cards Volunteers needed for Little Mowbray”, Tatler, August 27 2015).

Some have even questioned whether the move is constitutional, arguing the correct procedures have not been followed.

Last Friday, April 29, the City gave the go-ahead for the LMRID after the steering committee, which made the application, obtained 66.8% support from property owners for the proposed business plan and 6.7% objected to the establishment of the SRA. The support from the property owners was required as additional rates are levied on those who own property and who are not exempt from rates because they are indigent. The LMRID will become the 35th Special Ratings Area (SRA) in the metro. Essentially, what characterises SRAs is the bottom-up and collaborative approach to urban management that is deployed.

A community in a geographic area usually identifies which additional service needs are required for its area and these services are then paid for and managed by themselves,” Cape Town deputy mayor, Ian Neilson explained.

“This is how residents and local business take ownership of their communities in partnership with the City and is a key element in making sustainable progress possible.

“An additional rate will be levied on all properties within the proposed LMRID area from July 1 2016 in terms of Section 22(1)(b) of the Local Government Municipal Property Rates Act (MPRA) of 2004. Council has approved that residential properties be charged an additional rate of R0.000652 and that commercial properties be charged an additional rate of R0.001293.

“The SRA concept has proven to be a good joint venture between Council and property owners or residents to improve local areas without Council having to neglect or shift its primary duties. SRAs have also proven to be successful in combatting crime and unlocking the investment potential of business districts,” Mr Neilson said.

A statement from the LMRID steering committee said it was “delighted” that the City had chosen to approve the SRA.

“This represents the last formal hurdle in the establishment process and clears the way for a push towards implementation. There is a lot of work to do in the next few months, including the formal establishment of the SRA company and the tender process for service providers.

“We are aware that people are eager to know the final cost that this will represent to their household budgets. We have requested details from the City about the total valuation of the properties in the LMRID area (as per the 2016 property valuation role) and as soon as we receive this we will be able to calculate the final rate that the SRA will represent. We will be communicating further details on all these matters as soon as these are available.”

However, some residents are adamant those who support the SRA have not considered all the implications.

“Rosebank and Little Mowbray SRA will be something of a first as it was rejected by Pinelands, Bergvliet either withdrew or was refused, and Rondebosch followed a different route,” said Rosebank resident, Irina Botha.

“The process has been encouraged by the City and why wouldn’t they? In effect the ratepayers agree to pay increased rates in exchange for getting what we understood we paid for in the first place – street cleaning, general maintenance of the area and care for the homeless, supposedly now at an improved level.”

She said a further cause for concern was that this year all properties were being revalued, and early reports showed an increase of around 30% in the area. “The rates increase of R200 to R300 per month that was mooted by the steering committee for the SRA will instead become R700 to R1 000 on top of the present monthly rate.”

Ms Botha also questioned the City’s figure that 66.8% of residents supported the move.

“The vote has been completed with 61.24% having voted Yes. This leaves a very significant 38.26% of No votes which includes some notable academics and professionals who have woken up too late and are tearing into the financial plan which they find to be totally unrealistic.

“City council records were being scoured to find any missing voters who may have been overseas or away for whatever reason to encourage them to vote in favour of the SRA in order to bump up the paper-thin majority in favour. We had thought that the vote was closed. Surely when a vote has closed, it is closed?”

She added proponents of the SRA had exhibited “extraordinary zeal” in ensuring it was approved.

“The naysayers were outwitted, outmanoeuvred and simply caught flat-footed in the face of a clever, co-ordinated and well-planned campaign. Meetings were held with speakers from the steering committee casting a very rosy glow over the proposals and where any searching questions were cleverly sidelined. A letter to the press was written suggesting that anyone who did not agree with the proposal was plain stupid. Dissenting voices were either ignored or simply sidelined.”

In a letter to councillor JP Smith, resident Rene Lotter pointed that that there had been “serious irregularities” in the information campaign regarding the SRA, and even questioned whether the move was constitutional.

“I myself was one of those harassed by organisers who created the false impression of a community under siege by a fictitious ‘crowbar gang’, as well as exaggerated benefits about the proposed SRA, as well as its cost. Some people were for example told they should ‘just try the SRA’ and then easily opt out if you don’t like it,” Ms Lotter writes.

“Apart from misinformation about the need, the cost and duration of an SRA, a vague budget and business plan was submitted that I doubt would in a court of law stand up to the definition of a budget or business plan. The exaggerated crime and vagrancy reports were vigorously spread going door-to-door as well as in the community newsletter. There was also at least one recorded incident of racist scaremongering and harassment of residents especially the elderly.”

Mr Lotter added a large group of concerned anti-SRA residents – “some UCT academics, that have experience in the field of crime prevention and displacement” – had written hard-hitting objection letters and it was important to know whether these had even been read.

“Sworn affidavits and facts have been submitted by residents but according to council’s Eddie Scott, these were not enough to warrant a formal complaint. They were merely objections. He promised that the objections would be carefully and individually considered by a panel of experts that would then sit to ponder the merit of such an SRA.

“Other objectors also mentioned a procedural issue regarding the sudden lumping together of Little Mowbray and Rosebank.”

Ms Lotter said the issues that were brought to the attention of council were serious enough to warrant a formal line of enquiry or “a declaration of the entire process as flawed, null and void”.

Gill Lanham, who has lived in Rosebank for more than 34 years, questioned whether many of the “top-up” services provided for by the SRA were even needed.

“We do not need recycling, as many of us support Oasis, Abundance and other projects, and will continue to do so. We also don’t need graffiti removal, as requests to the City are usually attended to within 24 hours. Furthermore, there is no need for extra cleansing, nor do we need beautification.

Of interest is that the Friends of the Rosebank and Mowbray Greenbelt (FROG) has not been mentioned in the LMRID SRA proposal. The voluntary group, spanning all ages is passionate about preserving the local greenbelt . The best of every profession has given their expertise at no cost. The constitution was drawn up by a local advocate pro bono. Their work has shown community involvement at its best. Many residents take enormous pride in keeping the pavements and streets in front of their homes clean and litter-free. This costs nothing, just community pride.”

While acknowledging security was needed, she said “the security of our homes is for us to decide”.

“As a Rosebank resident, I have not supported the non voluntary SRA proposal, since first proposed in 2012. I resigned from the RNW organisation in 2014 for this reason. I am unable to be committed to something that I do not support,” she said.