With Organics, City Putting the Cart Before the Horse


One of the most common questions I hear about council and city hall is, “Does anyone there know what they are doing?” And the most frequent response is a head shake and shoulder shrug.  

The messaging council and city hall sends to the public on a variety of issues is, to say the least, confusing.     

Council is still rooting around in the garbage dump. When the push first came for an organics program, it was proposed that a new garbage utility be created and that residential property owners take the first hit on a user-pay monthly fee, as was the case in recycling.  

The vote for creating a waste utility narrowly passed. Shortly thereafter, Coun. Darren Hill wanted a re-do on the vote and council accommodated him. The subsequent vote on creating a utility failed. We were back to having an organics program funded through the tax base.  

The problem with paying for the program through property tax is that it would have necessitated a 4.7 per cent tax increase, which coupled with the already-established 3.16 per cent increase in 2019, would have hiked taxes by 7.86 per cent.  

Even the most obtuse councillor would have understood that wasn’t going to fly with taxpayers. The plan to disperse the 4.7 per cent tax increase through a monthly utility user fee (and hope that property owners were not smart enough to figure it out) failed.

Initially, the new organics program was to be introduced in 2020, but clearly someone looked at the civic election date and the roll-out of the organics program was kicked down the road to 2021.  

Most recently, it was proposed the program be delayed until 2023, which might again be a problem because councillors will be facing re-election in 2024.  

As well, councillors were kicking around the idea of letting backyard composters opt out of the program, which is crazy because homeowners would see a one-shot expenditure for a composter and a tax rebate as a better option that an ever-increasing monthly user fee or tax increases.  

When discussion was occurring about creating a utility, it was reported that it would start with about an $18-million debt, as the city would have to buy trucks and bins, hire staff and so on. 

It was presented that this utility would operate like other city utilities. (It was unclear whether this proposed debt would include the development of composting depots.)  

What is new is that we might be paying for an organics program as of 2021 although it won’t be available to taxpayers until 2023. Also new to the mix is that a “contractor will be selected” this fall. 

Hmm. If this service is being contracted out, why are we paying for a program for two years before it comes on stream? Shouldn’t the successful contractor have to provide the trucks, bins, workers and compost depots? I’m confused.

Call it déjà vu, but this is becoming reminiscent of the ad nauseam recycling debates. When recycling was first proposed, all the smart literature said dual bin collection was the way to go and cities that started with single bin collection were having to convert to dual stream. 

It made absolutely no sense to toss brittle glass into a bin with paper products, knowing that the glass would shatter when the truck picked it up and compacted the load. The shards of glass contaminate the paper products collected, making it unmarketable for recycled print paper. And the glass is not recycled at all. But single stream was the cheapest option, and council had to sell the concept of recycling to the public.

Before the recycling contractor has completed the term of the contract, council has already exempted the business from collecting glass and plastic bags. 

So, what is being recycled? Only the items that can turn a profit for the contractor, like tin cans, uncontaminated paper and plastic containers. However, our recycling charges were not reduced even though the contractor’s responsibilities were reduced.  

On my last utility bill, my monthly recycling fee was $5.77 ($69.24 per annum) which is over and above my property tax. And now we are expected to cart the glass products to SARCAN and, as far as I know, throw the plastic bags into the garbage.  

To add insult to injury, residential property owners have met (or exceeded) the targets for recycling, but the commercial/industrial sector has not. It is this business sector that contributes greatly to the landfill problem and does so without any penalty.     

I expect that any organics collection cost is going to be equal to or greater than the recycling fee. To encourage councillors to buy into the plan, administration tosses in the bone that $230,000 could be saved annually by only doing a monthly pickup. Thanks, but no thanks.  

Although I will not use an organics bin for anything other than summer yard waste, I don’t want to smell my neighbours’ rotting garbage for a month or deal with the rodents it may attract.    

If council has learned anything at all from the recycling experience, it should be that if you are going to do it, do it right or don’t do it at all.