Mu­nic­i­pal­ity set to clamp down on busi­nesses de­fault­ing on rates

Talk of the Town - - News - JON HOUZET

THE Nd­lambe Mu­nic­i­pal­ity will be­gin clamp­ing down on com­mer­cial prop­er­ties that have not been pay­ing rates.

Two of the prop­er­ties in the pub­lic eye are the Kowie Swim and Play Cen­tre, which in­cor­po­rates other busi­ness ten­ants in ad­di­tion to the in­door swim­ming pool, and the Good­will Cen­tre in Camp­bell Street, a for­mer com­mu­nity hall which re­cently leased the prop­erty to a hair­dresser.

Ward 10 coun­cil­lor Ray Schenk in­ves­ti­gated the rates sit­u­a­tion at both prop­er­ties.

On the in­door pool cen­tre he said, “I am sur­prised that this is­sue has taken so long to re­solve. The lease agree­ment was signed in 1998. When I was made aware of this is­sue I im­me­di­ately put the wheels in mo­tion to re­solve this anomaly. The in­door pool is not a stand­alone build­ing on the erf. There are other build­ings on that erf.”

When TotT did a story on the in­door pool cen­tre last year, we went through the lease agree­ment, which is valid for 99 years from Septem­ber 1 1997.

The rental payable to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity is only a nom­i­nal R1 a year. The ben­e­fit to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity in leases like this is that the prop­erty, with im­prove­ments, re­verts to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity at the end of the lease. But 99-year leases are rare.

A sig­nif­i­cant clause in the lease brought to TotT’s at­ten­tion, is that in ad­di­tion to the nom­i­nal rental, the lessee is re­spon­si­ble for pay­ment of rates and taxes on the prop­erty, “as­sessed on the same ba­sis as if the prop­erty was owned and reg­is­tered in the name of a pri­vate per­son rather than in the name of a lo­cal au­thor­ity”.

Yet no rates have been paid. Lease-holder Hen­nie Nel told TotT he was not re­quired to pay rates and taxes be­cause the prop­erty was recre­ational.

At the time, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was un­able to tell TotT if any rates were be­ing levied.

More than a year later, mu­nic­i­pal spokesman Ce­cil Mbolekwa said the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was fi­nally addressing the is­sue.

“Both lessees leas­ing on erf 3935 will be treated the same and in line with the lease agree­ment signed with the re­spec­tive lessees,” Mbolekwa said. “The pay­ment of rates and taxes will be dealt with in line with the com­mu­ni­ca­tion we have with the re­spec­tive lessees.

An­other prop­erty in the spot­light is the Good­will Cen­tre, which was pre­vi­ously used as a com­mu­nity cen­tre leased by var­i­ous groups for dance classes, karate and Al­co­holic Anonymous meet­ings, as well as pro­vid­ing tea and cof­fee for el­derly res­i­dents shop­ping town.

Sev­eral res­i­dents ex­pressed con­ster­na­tion when the premises were leased to a hair sa­lon re­cently.

Schenk said the Good­will Cen­tre had un­til re­cently been un­der the care of the Port Al­fred Benev­o­lent So­ci­ety and was re­bated in ac­cor­dance with the rel­e­vant pol­icy. “I have made the rec­om­men­da­tion that it be reval­ued as a busi­ness prop­erty,” he said.

Kevin Heny, who heads the Benev­o­lent So­ci­ety man­age­ment com­mit­tee, said it was “purely a com­mer­cial de­ci­sion” to lease the build­ing to a hair sa­lon.

“Orig­i­nally it was for Da­mant Lodge res­i­dents stop­ping for tea in town, and we’ve had var­i­ous little groups us­ing it. We weren’t get­ting enough com­mu­nity use and so little money was com­ing in. So rather we get money to ben­e­fit some, in this case Da­mant Lodge.”

He said the rental in­come was go­ing to Da­mant Lodge, which is the core of the Benev­o­lent So­ci­ety’s work.

He said the lodge had had a tough year, op­er­at­ing at a loss, and was keep­ing the Good­will Cen­tre afloat.

Asked if there was not a con­di­tion when the prop­erty was be­queathed that it al­ways be for com­mu­nity use, Heny said the doc­u­ment could not be found, and his mother, Joyce, who knew the his­tory of the build­ing, had Alzheimer’s and was her­self a res­i­dent of the lodge.

Heny said the prop­erty had un­til now been ex­empt from rates be­cause of its char­i­ta­ble use and also be­cause of an exchange about 30 years ago when the ad­join­ing plot, also owned by the Benev­o­lent So­ci­ety, was ex­pro­pri­ated to make a park­ing lot.

“We haven’t been in dis­cus­sion with the mu­nic­i­pal­ity yet, but we probably need to start pay­ing rates and taxes,” he said.

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