AT their AGM last week, the Port Alfred Residents and Ratepayers Association (Parra) expressed their desire for their membership to grow, to have a voice that the municipality will hear.
“We as Parra would like to see 200 people here, not 30,” said Dawie van Wyk, who stood in as chairman after Ray Hicks resigned last year.
He was echoed by committee member Tim Cockbain from the floor, who recalled that a few years ago another organisation, the now-defunct Ndlambe Action Group, had managed to draw 500 residents to meetings at the Port Alfred Civic Centre, but with a “negative approach” in engaging the municipality.
“We want to have 500 people with a positive approach,” Cockbain said.
Parra’s guest speaker was DA councillor Ray Schenk, but Van Wyk stressed that Parra was apolitical and Schenk was there in his former portfolio of chairman of the municipality’s budget steering committee.
This year new mayor Phindile Faxi has taken on that portfolio.
Schenk described the process of drawing up the municipal budget, starting with the mayor giving 10 months’ notice before the budget is finally passed by council on May 31. The municipality forecasts a three-year budget.
“There is no way this municipality could exist without MIG (municipal infrastructure grants),” Schenk said. “Treasury recommends a budget increase to not be more than the inflation rate. We won’t get that in a small municipality. I don’t foresee that it would be easy to get to a 6.5% or even a 7% increase. It’ll always be a little more than Treasury would like to have it.”
He encouraged public participation in the budgeting process. “Better budgeting enhances service delivery,” he said.
“In the period leading up to its adoption by council are budget imbizos, which is an important time because input leads to revisions,” Schenk said.
He said Van Wyk was very helpful in going through line items in the budget.
Van Wyk in turn praised Schenk’s efforts as head of the finance committee.
“When I first moved here, the budget was opaque,” he said. “In the last three years it’s become much more transparent, largely thanks to Ray and the Ndlambe Ratepayers Forum.”
In response to Schenk’s talk, Cockbain said: “In the time I’ve been here, the increases have been well above 6%. We’ve put through requests to go to a zero-based budget, but they’ve been ignored. We want to start from a position from where we all know what’s going on.”
Schenk replied: “When you see the backlog in services in the townships, it won’t be easy to start at zero. But there’s no harm in making proposals. Start with the budget process now.”
In his chairman’s report, Van Wyk said: “The continuous above inflation rate increases are problematic and the municipality needs to take cognisance of the number of pensioners who cannot afford these unsustainable increases.”
He said the rates increase was not the 9% as stated in the budget, but rather 11%, as the rates rebate had been reduced by 2%.
Van Wyk also went through some line items in the budget showing exorbitant amounts budgeted by the municipality for printing and stationery (R1 013 668), postage (R1 256 228), telephones (R1 305 157), consultants (R14 193 685), casuals (R4 119 564) and overtime (R4 688 402).
On the topic of roads, he said while some effort had been made in sealing certain sections of roads in Port Alfred, many roads remain in a critical situation and are deteriorating daily.
“The municipality’s use of ‘pothole gangs’ that are poorly supervised and unproductive are not the solution to improve the condition of the roads in Port Alfred,” he said.
“The cement block paving is proving to be a great success but maintenance needs to done before the pavers start lifting.”
On water, Van Wyk said the quasi-state organisation Amatola Water was “holding ratepayers to ransom as our municipality has no control over the increase in the water tariffs”.
He referred to a number of problems highlighted by Talk of the Town in the Ndlambe bulk water scheme’s “quick wins” projects.