Llandudno SRA explains budget increase

A spike in violent crime at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 prompted the Llandudno Special Ratings Area (SRA) board to put a proposal to the community to increase the security budget.

While general crime did not appear to increase, it was several violent incidents during this period that prompted the board to explore bolder security measures, resulting in a 66% vote in favour of increasing the security budget for Llandudno on April 6 last year.

The same budget was revalidated with unanimous approval at the SRA’s annual general meeting (AGM) in November last year.

These and other points were addressed and presented by some board members to the Sentinel last week.

In recent weeks, the board has come under scrutiny from what it calls a “minority” of residents opposed to the increased levy. This “opposition group” has also alleged “irregularities” in the election of the current board, while additionally raising concerns about a meeting held to investigate the feasibility of measures to counter the drought crisis in Llandudno (“Qualms around SRA board election”, Sentinel, March 23).

The board believes opposition residents are against the SRA concept generally, fearing that it falls into a “all taxes are bad” narrative.

The security issue remains a major point of contention, but Carel de Ridder, who oversees security in Llandudno, said it should be remembered that obtaining funding for security through donations was highly problematic.

“It is a constant struggle, but if you have a fixed SRA levy you are able to lease and buy the equipment as and when you need it,” he said.

It was felt that any perceived divisions first surfaced when the board first proposed additional security measures on April 6, because SRA volunteers only had preliminary plans and estimations for security improvements.

However, there was still enough community support to form two committees to address improved professional response and community-wide detection and contracted monitoring, the board said.

Several independent third parties were brought in to advise and ensure fair and optimal use of the funds. More than 30 vendors were invited to bid on many aspects of the security project, with the procurement process overseen by the City and awards voted on by the SRA board.

Since that time, the board believes the system has had considerable success.

The system now includes long-range thermal cameras and seismic sensors.

SRA chairperson Kiki Bond-Smith said she understood concerns that rising costs meant some residents were battling to remain in Llandudno.

“However, what is going to get people out of their homes are the high rates, not the SRA levy,” she said.

“As a community, we don’t always agree but once a decision is made, we must abide by that decision. That is how democracy works.”

In respect of the board election “irregularities”, Ms Bond-Smith said the board had always voted to be only eight people.

According to the “opposition” residents, the business plan for the period between July 2014 and June 2019, which was amended for the period between July 2017 and June 2019, states that the board should comprise a minimum of five and a maximum of 11 directors.

“Two previously co-opted members were formerly nominated as candidates to fill two vacant spots and unanimously approved. The two nominees from this small vocal group received a very small amount of votes, with one even being spoken against by two of the residents – a first in an AGM,” Ms Bond-Smith said.

“The residents were reminded at the AGM that any changes to the budget or increase in rates requires general debate and vote and cannot unilaterally be decided by the board.”

She said the board acknowledged that there would always be vehement opposition to some issues, and that there were likely other residents who agreed with the “small vocal minority”.

“The board has happily and voluntarily engaged opposing viewpoints by placing one of the nominees who lost the election (Andrew McNulty) onto the committee working on the water proposals. Still, the board continues to plea that everyone adheres to the democratic principles of the Memorandum of Incorporation, and work to get themselves legitimately elected as a constructive opposition.”

However, Robin Meyerowitz, among those residents who has questioned the SRA’s activities, has disputed that a distinction was ever made between violent and general crime prior to the April 6 meeting.

“In fact, we were told, many times, that there were no stats available, and if they were, they would be confidential. No stats were available nor compiled by and from the board, until I received a mail on August 4 , months after the approval meeting, asking my assistance as I had crime stats for Llandudno.

It was only after August 8 that I was asked to categorise violent and non-violent crimes. This is well after the voting for the security levy increase meeting,” he said.

He said “opposition” residents’ greatest concern was that a capital expenditure of R2.5 million a year was based on one serious crime event and the “total unsubstantiated claim that crime is vastly increased”.

“Residents, that we are aware of, have never regarded, nor ever discussed the SRA concept as being a tax issue at all,” he said. “The objections have always been the lack of transparency at the meetings, especially the so-called informal security proposal meetings, where minutes of neither meetings were made available – unlike the availability of the agenda and minutes of the recent water sub-committee meeting.”

He also disputed that the board had only ever voted to have eight people.

“At many meetings, the board has announced that that more people are needed to be involved. It has always been of note that those of divergent views have never been welcome. An extract of the minutes of the board meeting, noting and voting upon this variance of the latest business plan, has been requested. As this eight-member ‘rule’ has been implemented, why was the co-option of the two nominees even discussed at a board meeting after the AGM?”

In respect of Mr McNulty’s placement on the water sub-committee, Mr Meyerowitz said the residents had asked the chairperson of the committee to consider him on “various occasions”, as he had agreed to volunteer his services.