City unmoved by plea for rates relief
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Repeal of arrears policy shocks older residents, but municipalities owe R991m
It appears elderly residents are being targeted to boost municipal income while government departments owe millions to the eThekwini Municipality.
This came to light as Gary Burke, son of Durban dance world legend, Paddy Chelin, 98, said she had received a huge bill totalling R177 000 for a rates deferment account, after deferment agreements were cancelled by the Municipality as from July.
The decision has plunged many eThekwini pensioners into despair as they have received accounts for massive amounts which they are unable to pay. A rates deferment account is separate from the current rates account, which also has to be paid.
The rates deferment facility allowed pensioners who were struggling to pay rates to defer the payments until they died. The owed amounts would be settled by the pensioner’s estate.
It was subject to annual revision and this year, the municipality stated in an April letter to affected pensioners that the policy had been revisited in light of the legislation being repealed.
Also in April, it came to light that government departments owed R991 million for rates and services to the eThekwini Municipality (rates R658 million and services R332 million).
This was revealed in a response from the Provincial Treasury Department to parliamentary questions from the DA on outstanding amounts owed by government departments to KZN municipalities
The total debt owed to municipalities across KwaZulu-Natal from government departments totalled R2.4 billion as of April 2021.
At the time of going to press, the municipality had not responded to a request for comment on current amounts owed by government departments to the city, nor whether any steps to collect outstanding amounts had been initiated, or whether any monies owed had been collected.
Burke said his mother, who will turn 99 years old on October 10, was unaware of the huge demand from the city because it would be too distressing for her. As her caregiver, he had been in communication with the municipality, with his main concern being disconnection of services as his mother is reliant on a nebuliser.
When his father, former jockey Teddy Burke, died in 2003, the rates account was transferred to his mother who was told the rates would only become due when she died, or when the property title was transferred.
Burke, 70, who is on a Sassa pension (as is his mother), said they received the municipal letter in April regarding the cancellation of the rates deferment agreement. In July they received an account for an outstanding amount of R177 000.
“If they disconnect our services and we do not have lights or water, my mother will surely die. We do not have any other family or friends and we have nowhere else to go.
”This is putting great strain on our mental and physical health. We are also still recovering from Covid, for which we tested positive in July,” said Burke from his Umbilo home.
In numerous emails between Burke and the municipality since April and which the IOS has seen, Burke sent a proposal on September 13 to pay off the arrears amount, which the Revenue Management Unit said would be considered, with possible disconnection being suspended until such agreement could be finalised.
But on Thursday, a few hours after the IOS had sent a query to the municipality regarding the plight of pensioners regarding rates deferment agreements, Burke received an email from the municipality advising him that his proposal had not been accepted.
He was told that terms of 5% upfront (R9000) and the balance of 60 months (R2 800 a month) would be applied, and he had until Tuesday, September 29 to reply.
The eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said in a press statement: “Please note that the customer has been in touch with the relevant department and has made a payment arrangement. Both parties are amicable. We cannot divulge the payment plan to a third party as this is between us and the resident.
“We encourage those who would like clarity on their accounts to get in touch with our Revenue Management Department.”
Burke said neither he nor his mother had R9 000 to pay upfront and as far as he was aware, an arrangement had not been agreed on.
After receiving the email from the municipality on Thursday, he said his stress levels had risen considerably. He has turned to crowdfunding sites to try to raise some cash.
Those in the dance industry have described Paddy Chelin, fondly known as “Miss Paddy” to thousands of young dancers over the years, as a legendary figure in the world of dance.
Dance teacher, Candice York who trained with Chelin for 25 years, said Miss Paddy had trained top dancers who have performed on stages across the world.
“The fruits of her work has seen dancers and dance teachers working around the world, where she has put the South African brand and Durban out on the stage. She was a stalwart in dance and taught all disciplines, including ballet, tap and jazz. We spent our lives in the studio and she was an inspiration to so many dancers when she was teaching,” said York.
Retired dancer and dance teacher, Sandra Rosenberg, who trained as a dancer in Durban during her teen years, said: “Paddy Chelin was the most dedicated teacher and loveliest human being, as well as being so creative in her studio. In the dancing world she is a legend, she produced so many great dancers and teachers, a very special lady.
“In October, she’s going to turn 99, please God let her see her century, she doesn’t deserve any trouble at this stage of her life,” said Rosenberg.
The Independent on Saturday