The City of Joburg has given notice that it will defend a decision that led to a drastic increase in property rates for schools, universities and colleges, in court.
This follows an urgent application by civil rights group AfriForum to have the decision to remove the rates category ‘education’ from the city’s rates policy reviewed and set aside.
Moneyweb earlier reported that public schools and tertiary education institutions will in future be assessed as ‘public service property’ and pay about six times more than before, while independent schools, universities and colleges will be assessed as businesses, paying about 10 times more.
AfriForum hopes the application will be heard in the High Court in Pretoria before the end of July, when the first increase may show up on bills.
According to an affidavit by Morné Mostert, head of municipal affairs at AfriForum, public schools and tertiary institutions face an increase of 529%, while independent schools, universities and colleges face an increase of 686% if they qualify for a 25% rebate (the rebate is not available for public schools). Without it, the increase will be considerably more.
This means that a public school with a valuation of R70 million that has been paying about R12 000 per month for rates, will in future be expected to pay about R75 000 per month. An independent school with the same valuation will see its R12 000 monthly bill increase to R96 000 even after applying the 25% rebate it may qualify for.
Mostert says these institutions will not be able to pay these increases. Their budgets for the year were finalised some time ago, and on the assumption that the increases in municipal rates and taxes would be reasonable.
They will have to increase tuition fees to a level where parents won’t be able to afford them, he says.
Even where the state as owner of school property is responsible for the payment of rates, it will place an unfair burden on the relevant department and money earmarked for new schools or the improvement of infrastructure will have to be used to pay the municipal bill.
Mostert says organs of state are supposed to promote the rights contained in the Bill of Rights, which is part of the Constitution, but this Joburg council decision flies in the face of it. The best interest of the child is not paramount, as the Constitution provides should be.
According to Mostert, the City of Joburg created the impression during the public participation on the rates policy, that it would retain the ‘education’ category and educational institutions would only see a 2% increase in rates. This was later changed without consulting stakeholders again.
Therefore, most institutions are totally unaware of the rates shock awaiting them.
The process the city followed is therefore flawed and on that basis alone the decision should be set aside, according to Mostert.
Mostert further states that the director-general of the Department of Basic Education has indicated that his department was equally not consulted about the decision. That means the city has failed to follow legal prescripts to consult other organs of state about the decision and the possible impact it may have.
He says there is no reason why the special category had to be removed and even if it did so, the council could have mitigated the impact with a meaningful rebate.
Teachers’ union SAOU is keeping an eye on the issue, according to its CEO Chris Klopper. He said public schools are on government property and as such the Department of Education is liable for the rates. In many cases schools are however paying for rates out of school fees because the department fails to make the payments.
Klopper says the union will ensure that the department takes responsibility and pays these bills in future.
Listen to Fifi Peters’s interview with AfriForum’s Morné Mostert on school rate hikes (or read the transcript here):