Covid-19 lockdown: Call for City of Cape Town to offer relief on rates, service bills

Cape Town – Calls are mounting for the City to offer some relief to taxpayers and residents struggling because of Covid-19 and the resultant lockdown.

Sandra Dickson of Stop COCT / DearCapeTown said this relief should include four months’ relief for all ratepayers – from paying rates, refuse removal and water sanitation – permanent scrapping of water and electricity levies, and zero increase for any services tariff for 2020/21.

With the current draft 2020/21 budget still on the table, Dickson said this can be adjusted to deal with the Covid-19 aftermath.

“Many businesses are expected to close and even more people are going to lose their jobs. We urge the City to take early measures to avoid the mayhem, which will impact the City’s accounting system when hundreds of thousands of municipal accounts go into arrears as a result of the inability of residents to pay their utility bills,” she said.

The City of Cape Town has around 600000 ratepayers, and if a large portion of them fail to pay their bills in the next few months, the City will find its accounting system in a mess, Dickson said.

“Banks and other financial institutions are giving their clients relief by deferring payments or spreading payments over future months. The City is not a profit-making organisation. It has immediate cash reserves of more than R10 billion. In the long term the City has more than R18bn in cash reserves,” Dickson pointed out.

She said this was ratepayers’ money, accumulated over years, which should have been used for service delivery in the first place, adding that it was therefore reasonable for ratepayers to expect relief to be given by using the City’s vast cash reserves.

Dickson urged the City to “serve its constituents and return some of the money and surpluses that have accumulated via service tariffs and levies over many years”.

Delft Ratepayers Association chairperson Mogamat Titus said a “breather” from the bills will ensure that poor families who have found themselves out of jobs spend the little cash they have on basic needs.

“Lockdown is now about survival, and most families are worried whether they will have enough food.

“Unemployment is at its highest and with the little that they get most of their earnings are spent on food, which is an essential during this lockdown,” Titus said.

Mayco member for finance Ian Neilson said the City was considering such proposals together with a large number of other suggestions.

He said the City will first ensure that it secures the delivery of basic services and crucial deliverables to ensure people’s health and safety.

“The City’s programme will be in the best interests of all Capetonians, and it will be funded by implementing some of the strategies listed by Stop COCT, among others. This will include cutting the salary budget of the City, drawing from budgets no longer needed due to the lockdown (travel/events etc),” he said.

Neilson said it was a myth that the City had funds sitting in bank accounts which do not have a specific purpose. “We ensure that we have enough cash to cover working capital needs, and the rest is used to fund budget needs, including current programmes.”