By Peter Stevenson
RESIDENTS and businesses in Kaimakli and Pallouriotissa are mustering forces after receiving bills out of the blue for the creation of new pavements and the asphalting of roads outside their homes.
For most homeowners the bill comes in at under €200 but for some businesses it runs into the thousands. Nicosia municipality, in letters to residents that came with the bills during the week, says it could afford to pay the €32 million bill itself and is relying on residents and their understanding to contribute their fair share since the government, to whom people pay taxes to build roads and pavements, will no longer be covering the cost. Residents are being charged 10 per cent of the cost of pavements outside their homes and businesses.
The begging letter then goes on to invoke the law and offers a one-time-only deal of 20 installments at an interest rate of 7.0 per cent. It also mentions that it had published its intent – under the invoked law – in the official government gazette on January 9. Otherwise, residents could not have been charged. The charge is calculated according to the size of the house which spans the length of the pavement.
A woman in Kaimakli said she paid for a pavement when she renovated her house years ago. This was dismantled under the new works and now she’s been charged again.
One of those most affected is 55-year-old supermarket owner Andros Fantis and his wife Andri whose shop is situated on both Kyriacou Matsi and Vasilissis Frederikis in Kaimakli.
“They are claiming that they followed procedure by publishing it in the Official Gazette but who even reads that? Are they telling us we’re obliged to read it just in case the government decides to charge us for the air we breathe?” said Fantis. “When they want us to pay a bill they manage to send that through the mail but informing us [in advance] about charging for pavements couldn’t be done that way?” he added.
Fantis said he was charged €43,000 for the pavement and the road works and on appeal had it reduced to €32,000 but if he were to pay the money off under the installment plan, he would be footing a bill closer to €60,000. He said he could get better interest rates if he were to borrow from the bank.
Fantis held an initial meeting with local residents last weekend with around 30 people showing up but news is spreading he said, and other residents in the area and neighbouring Kaimakli have shown an interest in finding a way legally not pay.
“We have 75 days to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court from the day it was announced in the gazette on January 9 so we will see how many names we can get together because the more people we get on board the stronger our argument will become,” he said.
“They [the authorities] keep pushing us and pushing us. Mistakes were made [in handling the economy] and the people have been given the bill. There’s only so much anyone can take and the next step is simple. Army reservists have guns at home and they will eventually rise up if they keep getting pushed around and charged for things the government should be paying for,” he said.
One solution, according to 67-year-old local pensioner Giorgos Ketenis, is to block off the road and not allow anyone access seeing as residents have paid for the pavements and so own them. The former footballer lives on a road in Kaimakli in a poor neighbourhood that leads directly to the buffer zone.
“How will these poor local residents find the money to pay for the pavement when they don’t have money to buy food?” he asked.
“The municipality is supposed to care about the people and show an interest. They shouldn’t be thinking about how they are going to charge for pavements, they should be asking whether the residents have money to put food on the table,” he said.
He questioned the thinking behind constructing pavements that in many areas of Kaimakli eventually lead people back to walking on the road. “The only use the pavements outside our homes have is for cars to park on and for cats and dogs to defecate on,” he said.
Suzanne Sacorafou, a conservator who owns a house on Vasileos Pavlou in Kaimakli has been forced to pay for pavement construction twice.
“The first time, 15 years ago, it was a condition for a house on the preservation list and then again they had to put flood draining under the pavement so it needed to be reconstructed,” she said.
She said that the pavement is so small that it serves no real purpose and anyone in a wheelchair would not be able to use it as they are mainly used for cars to park on and other sections are too narrow to walk on. “It’s a joke, charges should be spread out for everyone to pay along with rubbish collection and sewage bills,” she said.
Myroulla Alonefti, an administrative official at Nicosia Municipality told the Sunday Mail that she understands residents’ qualms but the town council had no other way to pay for the construction of the pavements as the municipality is being forced to operate with a smaller budget.
“The public are perfectly within their rights to complain and I hope they do end up going outside parliament to protest. Why are people charged road tax [by the government] if that money is not used to fix the roads?” she asked.
She explained that on main roads, any repairs or constructions are covered by the government (75 per cent) and the municipality (25 per cent) but on minor roads the bill is footed by the residents. In Kaimakli, once a small village on the outskirts of the capital, however, nearly all of the street could be classed as ‘minor roads’.
“It’s unfair and we understand one thousand per cent because the pavements aren’t only used by residents of those roads, they are used by everyone yet only the residents are being charged for it,” she said.
Alonefti clarified that if pavements are cracked and need repairs then that is the municipality’s responsibility but if pavements need to be built from scratch on a minor road that residents must pay for it.
Another Kaimakli resident, Yianna Polydorou said: “I wouldn’t mind if these were real pavements and the disabled could use them, all they’ve done is make it easier for the cars to park and created wheelchair ramps to nowhere. Some pavements were badly needed in Kaimakli but what they’ve done along part of my road… creating six-inch pavements is just a waste of money and then they charge me for it? No one sets foot on this so-called footpath… ever. There is no room for one person to walk on it never mind a mother with a pram or an old person with a walker. It’s rubbish”.
(Photos: Christos Theodorides)