Council’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee voted Thursday to refer the so-called “pay-as-you-throw” model back to administration, citing a lack of clarity over billing and fees.
“The first thing that residents ask is ‘what is it going to cost me?’” Coun. Lori Bresciani said.
Administration is recommending a model in which residents would pay for garbage pickup on their utility bills — with different fees according to the size of their bins. Recycling would be covered by property taxes. Staff promised a fee scale this fall, but the councillors who sit on the committee refused to endorse the plan without it.
“It’s difficult to make a decision on a fee structure when I don’t know what it is,” said Coun. Andrew Stevens.
“I feel that without numbers in front of me, I can’t support this,” said Coun. Sharron Bryce.
Bryce said she isn’t even sure administration’s preferred model is the best of four proposed options. She said it would still leave the city in its condo-waste-rebate conundrum.
Councillors faced that contentious issue at their last meeting, when angry condo owners complained that they pay for garbage pickup through property taxes but don’t get the service.
“This does nothing to solve the problem,” Bryce said.
Coun. Barbara Young explained how the new model would merely shift the issue from garbage pickup to recycling.
“If garbage is going to be paid for … then that will take care of the issue that we currently have on the condo rebate,” Young said. “But if people get composting and recycling free that’s going to put us right where we were before.”
With that in mind, Bryce favoured an option that would charge for both garbage and recycling on a user-fee basis.
But Coun. Andrew Stevens was skeptical about treating city services like that, saying many fees weigh heavier on the poor
“User fees, flat-rate user fees, generally function as a regressive taxation system,” he said. “You’re going to see low-income people paying more.”
Stevens said he’s interested in the idea of financial incentives to discourage waste. But like the other councillors, he wants to see the costs that residents will bear — and whose shoulders they will fall on.
City staff told councillors they’ll be ready to report back on fees around October of this year.
In arguing for administration’s preferred model, solid waste director Lisa Legault focused on the power of fees to motivate better waste habits.
“The funding policy that we brought before you has more to do about the philosophy of how people should pay,” she told councillors, “how do we motivate people to reduce waste and change their behaviours?”
But she also mentioned a sweetener. Funding the cheaper program (recycling) through property taxes and the costlier one (garbage pickup) through fees could help lower taxes.
“From a taxpayer’s perspective, there’s a difference,” she said.
For the city as a whole, the program could be cost neutral — some would pay more in utility fees, others less. But the city’s general revenue fund would save about $2.5 million. Legault speculated that council could use the money to lower property taxes by one mill rate.