Residents doubt drought levy

Mayor Patricia de Lille.

Ratepayers are mustering to fight a drought levy, with one civic group calling for them to “rise up and resist” what it has dubbed “a hugely stupid idea”.

The City wants to start charging the levy in February. The last full-council meeting of the year last week voted to send it out for public comment.

Mayor Patricia de Lille told the meeting the levy was needed to keep water in the taps and pay for “water augmentation” projects.

The levy will need Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s approval.

If approved in the January adjustment budget, Ms De Lille said the levy could raise about R420 million in the 2017/2018 financial year and about R1 billion a year for the next three years after that.

Property values will determine how much each resident pays, but the levy won’t apply to homes under R400 000 and businesses under R50 000.

A R1 million home will have a R60 levy.

“It must be emphasised that the drought charge is not intended to be punitive as it relates to residents’ water savings,” Ms De Lille said.

But ratepayers don’t see it that way. Chris Willemse, chairman of the Camps Bay and Clifton Ratepayers’ Association, opposes the levy and questions the legality of using property value to work it out.

“We understand that they are losing revenue but this is down to the mismanagement of the City,” he said.

Had the City started with water-saving measures, including restrictions, last year, when he said it should have done, there would still be a year’s worth of water left.

“Now the people of Cape Town will have to pay for their mistakes.”

Osman Shaboodien, chairperson of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association, agrees.

“The drought levy will be an extra burden on an already burdened ratepayer. We are going to have to pay for the inefficiency of the City. I say no to the levy.”They City had ignored warnings of a looming crisis, he said, and it was unfair to now place the burden of the drought on ratepayers.

“In every crisis you need a lot of money. The City should pay for their mistakes.”

Green Point resident Ralph Malan said basing the levy on property value was “an absurdity”. It also penalised people for doing the very thing the City had asked them to do: save water.

“When things become scarce, their price increases. Water has become scarce so the price has been increased, sufficiently to spur reduction in purchases but insufficient to maintain income.

“The logical measure is to increase the price further. If a ratepayer has been diligent to the extent of reducing his consumption to zero he will still have to pay the drought levy. The City is going to penalise the person who has been the most diligent.”

Philip Bam, secretary of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, said the City had had at least five years to prepare for the crisis.

The alliance, he said, called on ratepayers to “rise up and resist this absurd and hugely stupid idea”.

Mr Bam said the alliance encouraged households to continue saving water, but”we will not stand idly by while being bullied just because some arrogant power crazy politico thinks (mistakenly) that the Cape Town ratepayer is a docile, subservient and pliant entity”.

The City, he said, should

“go back to the drawing board and come up with a better plan”.

Janine Myburgh, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce of Industry, said the water crisis was “of our own making” and the product of “short-term thinking”.

She said Cape Town had recycled only 6% of its water, mostly for golf courses and parks. Increasing that percentage to supply industry should have been a “no-brainer”, but the City had been reluctant to do that when industry had been prepared to pay more for “sweet dam water” .

“Think of the Athlone treatment plant. It is ideally situated to supply recycled water to the surrounding industrial areas and the airport where all the hired cars are washed and many thousands of loos are flushed by departing and arriving passengers. Ten million of them over the course of a year.”

Ms Myburgh said the City should follow the example of the Department of Energy and issue a tender for the supply of a fixed quantity of water every year for the next 20 years.

“It’s not rocket science. Consumers will pay slightly more over the next 20 years as they use the water, but they will have a guaranteed supply. There will be no need for special drought charges and the kind of emergency measures we are now seeing.”