Are Council’s Decisions Made With Re-election In Mind?

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Well, the truth is out.

Coun. Darren Hill rescinded his vote last December for a waste management utility and put the onus for funding both garbage collection and the proposed organics program through a property tax increase. This in turn precipitated Coun. Randy Donauer to introduce a motion to postpone proceeding with the organics program in 2020.

In the rationale given for his action, Donauer said: “I don’t really think there’s an appetite for an eight- or nine-per cent tax increase next year,” and “none of us are coming back (for another term) if we do that (high of an increase.)”  

Clearly, some councillors make their decisions based on their re-election prospects rather than their belief in what is good for the city. But we already knew that. And Donauer was not asking to have the organics program cancelled, but merely postponed it (presumably until after the 2020 civic election).

We now know that the cost of establishing the organics program equals a 4.7 per cent tax increase. What is interesting is that some councillors were prepared to impose that financial burden on residential home owners. If it was hidden as a utility fee, they may not be inclined to impose that burden by hiking the property tax bill because it may affect their re-election chances. Has “save the landfill” rhetoric been replaced with “save our political butts?”

Was Donauer, who initially supported both the organics program and the proposed utility, trying to save face when he suggested a few inane options, like exemptions for people who already compost? If that had occurred, I would have to get back the little composter I gave away and I suspect little composters would have been decorating backyards city-wide.  

Would the city have had to employ organic police inspectors to ensure there was actually something in those composters?   

Donauer also suggested an expansion of the green cart program, which is voluntary. Hill jumped on this idea and asked for a report on it, which council agreed to. (For what it is worth, I can see the benefit of a garden-waste program for six months of the year when the bins would actually be used.)

Donauer’s last pearl of wisdom was to ban organics from black bins and at the landfill. Hill got that idea passed by council. How in hell do you police that? How do you prevent people from putting garden waste in black garbage bags and putting them in their collection bins? Would the city hire spotters to open and examine garbage before the automated arm hoists the bags into the trucks? And if garden waste is prohibited from the landfill, where do the elm tree cuttings from the permitted trimming season go?  

I don’t understand the relationship between this council and the industrial/commercial/institutional (ICI) business sector. During the last election campaign, then-candidate Charlie Clark vowed never to support a tax shift from business to residential taxpayers. Shortly after being elected mayor, he supported that tax shift. When the recycling reports were presented, the residential taxpayers were meeting the diversion expectations, but the ICI was not. 

With the introduction of an organics program, it was reported that the bulk of organic waste was from the ICI sector. Yet there was nothing done to encourage or penalize the ICI to meet its targets.

Yet the program would first target residential homeowners, while the ICI would be given a two-to-four year holiday before the program would be implemented for them. Is it that residential homeowners don’t donate as much as ICI owners to civic election campaigns? Was it for political expediency when, in May 2018, council voted against banning or restricting corporate and union donations to civic election campaigns, even though that recommendation came from the city’s own Municipal Review Commission along with information that $360,000 in campaign donations came from corporations and labour groups?  

Should basic services be provided through a utility or the tax base? Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency places values on land and property in the province and it is that value which determines what individual property taxes will be.  

In urban Saskatchewan, if you live in a large home in an affluent neighbourhood, your property taxes will be higher than the homeowner whose dwelling is modest and in a middle-class area. The premise is that wealthier citizens will pay more than the middle- or lower-income citizens.  A 4.7 per cent tax increase would have been painful to all Saskatoon residents, rich or poor, but the equivalent dollar amount applied equally to all residents through a utility would mean the poor would be disproportionally affected.  

Didn’t Coun. Ann Iwanchuk consistently pointed this out during the debates? However, the utility would have sheltered council from irate taxpayers facing a massive tax increase. A smaller monthly utility fee would slide by taxpayers more readily than a huge hit on property taxes. 

The proposed start-up debt would be on the books of a utility rather than on the city’s debt ledger. And utility fee increases could come every year, in the same manner as the water utility, and council could receive a “dividend” from the utility for its general revenue fund.   

Instead, council is going to phase in the program and its costs — drip, drip, drip. It will divert money from other accounts, and then increase taxes to replenish the pillaged accounts as well as possibly going the “special” (unending) tax route.  

When all is said and done, our next tax increase will start at 3.16 per cent to maintain services, along with whatever the cost of new spending amounts to, plus whatever phase-in percentage is necessary for a new waste management program. Like garbage at the landfill, it will be spread around.

The great garbage debate ends with Coun. Cynthia Block calling for reports on how delays to the program will affect the landfill, including the impact on reaching the 70 per cent diversion rate by 2023. If Block wants to reach that goal, she should target the ICI businesses that generate the greatest amount of organic waste and which still do not meet the expectations set for recycling. 

What council should remember is that businesses do not cast votes, but residential homeowners do.