By Bejay Browne
THE INTERIOR ministry has officially refused requests by Peyia and Tala to exit the scandal-hit Paphos Sewerage Board (SAPA) project, which brought down its mayor Savvas Vergas.
Peyia councillor Linda Leblanc confirmed to the Cyprus Mail that a letter from the ministry, which was sent to all concerned parties, confirmed a decision discussed at a meeting on December 19 in Nicosia. However, they have been granted a five-year tax freeze and those who have already paid their bills will be refunded.
“SAPA is due to hold a board meeting to rubber stamp this decision and once this happens the money will be returned fairly quickly,” she said.
Leblanc who attended last month’s meeting in Nicosia said that the ministry confirmed that 20 per cent of homeowners had paid their 2013 taxes and she believes the vast majority of these were foreign residents, who didn’t want to be hit with late-fee penalties.
“The minister said that there is about €35,000 to be returned; these sewerage bills are based on the value of the properties.”
Leblanc said that people who have paid their sewerage bills should visit SAPA with their receipt of payment and make an application to have the money returned. However, she noted that some cases may not be so straightforward.
“Last year many were forced to pay SAPA charges to get their title deeds and made these payments to the developers. The developers will then have paid the land registry. People in these situations will have to pressure the developer to get a return,” she said.
Last year, Peyia council informed SAPA, by majority vote, that it would exit the sewerage scheme after a request for an extension on outstanding bills until 2018 was denied.
Leblanc voted against the move saying there would be major repercussions in the future and noted that the exit move would have to be approved by the council of ministers and then by Brussels as it’s against EU directives. Any delays beyond the revised deadline of 2016 could leave Peyia liable to huge EU fines.
She said: “I’m concerned about the EU directive and any subsequent fines. We should have had a system up and running by the end of 2012 and we were granted an extension until the end of 2016, when the project should’ve been completed. Obviously, that’s not possible now.”
Leblanc said that the minister assured that they would assume the responsibility, something she hopes they will confirm in writing.
She said that although she welcomes the five-year tax freeze, which will provide some breathing space to plan how and what type of system will be created, she said the period of time is too long.
The main tourist area which includes Coral Bay sees thousands of people visiting every day and the EU directive targets the protection of such areas. She said that Coral Bay is already suffering environmental damage due to poor water management, which will only deteriorate further if nothing is done.
However, she said that officials seem to agree that a sewerage system needed to be installed in the tourist area which often suffers from unpleasant smells.
She added that the new mayor of Paphos, Phedonas Phedonos, who now also heads up SAPA, has already been in touch with Neofitos Akourshiotis, the mayor of Peyia, to confirm that taxes would be returned.