Coun­cil di­vided over plan for trash pickup user fees

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - PHIL TANK

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.

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