Municipal rates battle

2019-10-10 15:00
Cheetahs in Nambiti Game Reserve. Lodges in the reserve have gone to court in a battle over municipal rates.PHOTO: Ian Carbutt (file)

Cheetahs in Nambiti Game Reserve. Lodges in the reserve have gone to court in a battle over municipal rates.PHOTO: Ian Carbutt (file)

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Seven game lodges in the Ladysmith area are fighting to be charged “normal” rates after their municipality recently changed their rating category to “business/commercial”.

The game lodges are; Elephant Rock Lodge, Umzolozolo Lodge, Nambiti Hills, Nambiti Plains, Cheetah Ridge Lodge, Lion Valley Lodge and the Ndaka Safari Lodge. They are all situated in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve.

The dispute between the lodges and the Alfred Duma Municipality came before the Pietermaritzburg high court on Wednesday and was adjourned to a date to be arranged.

The lodges are asking the court to review and set aside the municipality’s decision to recategorise their properties.

Previously, they fell under “game hunting and/or eco-tourism”.

Attorney Clarke Seamus Smith said in court papers that the process the municipality followed to introduce and implement the 2017/18 policy was fatally flawed and should be found to be invalid.

He also said that the reasoning behind the formulation of the new policy is without merit.

Smith said that none of the lodges receive regular rates statements. In addition, they were not given prior notice that the municipality intended to change their rates category.

Smith said that all the lodges receive minimal services from the municipality. All of them draw water from boreholes and procure their electricity from Eskom or generate their own.

The businesses of the lodges, and Nambiti as a nature reserve, contributes a lot to the fiscus of the municipality due to the number of tourists these lodges attract to the area.

The visitors confine their activities to the lodge property, meaning that the flow of revenue is always in the municipality’s favour, he said.

He added that any perception that the visitors use services provided by the municipality is an illusion.

The economic benefits derived through the businesses should more than adequately enable the municipality to comply with its constitutional obligations pertaining to service delivery in respect of Nambiti as a whole and parts of Ladysmith, he said.

Smith added that because the municipality has failed to explain the rationale for the recategorisation, it is assumed that no valid reasons exist.

The decision is “irrational, unjustified and therefore unlawful”.

In response, the municipal manager, Sibusisiwe Ngiba, said that the municipality has complied with all the necessary requirements in preparing a draft rates policy. It was left open for inspection at the municipal head office, satellite offices, library and published on the municipality’s website. The requisite notice was also given through local newspapers.

The municipality then adopted and published the municipal by-laws to give effect to it.

He also said he wants to remind the lodge owners that rates is a tax which the municipality is legally allowed to collect and not a “service utility account based on municipal services”.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ladysmith
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