GEORGE NEWS - Municipalities have been hard hit by the Covid-19 restrictions and are working non-stop to address the resultant backlogs in service delivery. This is according to Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning Minister Anton Bredell, who said municipalities have been severely affected by the pandemic and some are reporting revenue losses of between 20% and 30%.
"Most of our municipalities rely on the busy December holiday period for revenue and have lost out significantly this past season with the various restrictions in place. Jobs across the province are under pressure and there is very little room left for municipalities," said Bredell in a recent media statement.
George municipal spokesperson Chantel Edwards-Klose confirmed that the municipality has recorded a drop in revenue billed for water and electricity due to households and businesses consuming less. Lockdowns affected the restaurant, entertainment and hospitality industry that had correspondingly reduced water and lights accounts.
Residents' and businesses' ability to pay for services was also affected and a 5% drop (in an average payment ratio of 92,8%) in revenue billed has been experienced. This includes the rates levy.
All campsites were operational during the festive season and provided revenue. Municipal facilities such as swimming pools, sport fields and halls have remained closed, but these sources are relatively small and therefore do not make a significant overall impact on the revenue, said Edwards-Klose.
The Planning Department has implemented the online submission of plans, which has streamlined the process. Although the restriction placed on the construction industry slowed the submission of plans, there has been a steady incline again over the past six months.
She said despite challenges encountered with motor vehicle renewals (MVR) and driver's licence renewals, an astonishing 137 718 MVR transactions were processed in the six months following hard lockdown (1 June to 30 November 2020). This is a 25% increase in the six-month standard number of transactions.
"The officials at both the MVR facility and driving licence testing centre have worked extremely hard to clear the backlog created by the lockdown. The resultant spike in revenue by around 15% has balanced the loss in revenue during the hard lockdown period and the expected income has now stabilised."
In his mayoral letter last week, Mayor Leon Van Wyk said the municipality strives to balance the present challenges while planning for the future.
"Ongoing efforts are underway to examine how the municipality can improve the effectiveness of its operations to reduce costs while maintaining productivity. We need to ensure cost containment measures are put in place to curtail our expenditure to the level of revenue being generated," he said.
Edwards-Klose said remote working has resulted in officials adopting innovative work methods, which will remain in place. "Time and attendance for officials and working from home have all been addressed continuously, with the municipality currently workshopping final policies in this regard to be implemented for the foreseeable future."
Human Settlements, Civil Engineering Services, Electrotechnical Services, Corporate Services and Finance have worked remotely and/or in rotation to ensure a continuation of services, she said.
The municipality lost seven officials due to Covid-19-related complications, three in the first wave and four in the second wave. Many have also lost family members.
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