Council divided over plan for trash pickup user fees
Saskatoon city council took a hesitant first step toward the possibility of user fees for garbage pickup, but even some supporters on council admitted to “misgivings.”
Council voted 7-4 on Monday to continue to explore options for operating waste services as a userpay utility rather than charging for it though property taxes.
Councillors on both sides of the issue expressed mixed feelings. Councillors Troy Davies, Randy Donauer, Bev Dubois and Ann Iwanchuk voted against the move.
“The cost of not doing this is, in my mind, more of a concern than the cost of doing it,” Mayor Charlie Clark said at Monday’s council meeting. “Garbage is very controversial. We know that.”
Coun. Darren Hill said the cost of waste is going up regardless of which direction council chooses, since the service is being underfunded right now by $3 million a year.
“Is this going to be painless?” Hill asked.
“Absolutely not. Curb-side recycling wasn’t painless. I still have some scars from that.”
Hill acknowledged the idea of user fees for garbage collection is unpopular with some, but said council must not only be guided by what’s popular now, but also what’s best for the community in the future.
He also pointed out that approval of any new system will still rest with city council.
Coun. Zach Jeffries said the estimated remaining lifespan of Saskatoon’s landfill is about four decades and the cost of shuttering it and building a new one is estimated at $126 million.
He likened the idea of ignoring the need to address waste diversion with the neglect of Saskatoon’s road network, which has prompted dedicated property tax increases for the last several years.
“Don’t get me wrong, I have misgivings about what’s in front of us,” Jeffries said. “We can’t simply sweep this issue under the rug.”
Jeffries said just because he voted in favour of exploring user-pay options on Monday, that does not mean he will automatically vote for it in the future.
Conversely, Dubois said she might vote in favour of user fees in the future, although there are too many unanswered questions for her right now.
“I’m just not at the point where I can support this,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that I won’t support it in the future.”
City hall administration is not recommending a weight-based user fee system, but rather one that is based on cart size or collection frequency.
Some of the concerns raised include that renters and large families would be adversely affected by a user-fee system, that fees would lead to illegal dumping or that people would dump their garbage in others’ bins to avoid paying.
Right now, about $8.9 million in property taxes go toward funding the city’s waste services. That amount would be removed from property taxes under a user-pay system. City hall is next expected to consult residents and come back with a plan in early 2018.