Brandon City Council hotly debated a plan to end solid waste collection at multi-family complexes with seven or more units as of Dec. 31, 2013 and share costs for private garbage collection over five years.
It passed by an 8-2-1 margin on Monday night, but the debate centred on whether the plan unfairly subsidizes property owners for moving to private-sector collection, or whether it was fairer to compensate property owners who will now have to pay for residential garbage collection.
Coun. Garth Rice (South Centre) panned the proposal, as in his view, it forced the rest of the city to subsidize garbage collection for multi-family units that were being operated as businesses by the owner.
“This plan was not as far-reaching as I would have liked it,” Rice said. “It covers seven units on any one said property, and I wanted five units on one said property. It has the taxpayers of the City of Brandon compensating, in a small way, but it is still a compensation package for five years, which I certainly disagreed with. I don’t think any entity of that nature should be subsidized by the taxpayers.”
Rice supported an option that would have seen the city get out of garbage and recycling collection in 2014 for multi-family complexes with seven or more units, but his motion was defeated.
Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond) also opposed the new plan because condo owners who pay taxes on their properties could in effect be paying for a service they can no longer access, and pay extra to a private firm to get that service.
“It’s not a business to them, it’s their house,” Montague said. “They will pay fees to have their garbage collected when others won’t. It’s not easy to pass these fees on to tenants. I made a comment two weeks ago that on one hand we are trying to increase affordable housing stock in the community, and now you are looking at this.”
Montague said if these garbage collection costs are added to rents, it works against affordable housing.
Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine) abstained from voting on the motion, but spoke during the debate.
“We are brushing everyone with the same brush, that people are going to make a pile of money on this and I don’t think that will be the case,” Fawcett said. “I do know from Day 1 that we wanted to address this and this plan is well done. I’m still not sold on it.”
Coun. Jan Chaboyer (Green Acres) said there are legitimate concerns with the contamination of recycling materials as they are mixed with garbage at apartment blocks, and supported the solid waste plan as proposed because it took steps to deal with the problem.
“Right now, it is too hard for people living in condo or apartment blocks to haul their garbage four floors and then try to find one of multiple bins that aren’t full when they are all full,” Chaboyer said. “When you take your recycling down, you have to fiddle with that to find a bin that isn’t full. It’s hard on that effort. It’s hard for property managers who deal with this day-to-day. We are moving in the right direction.”
Coun. Corey Roberts (Rosser) said the plan works better for the city, and improves the system, so it got his support.
Coun. Jeff Harwood (University) also supported the five-year cost-sharing plan.
“Change is never easy, but this is something we need to do,” Harwood said. “There are multi-family units with seven units in the University ward and some have commercial pickup. Some units have trains of bins down the back lane. Other blocks have the bins lined up on the opposite side of the land in their neighbour’s property. (The proposal) will go a long way to alleviate this problem and will help with our recycling.”
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said in her defence of the plan that while she doesn’t actually use some city services, she’s happy to pay taxes so that the services exist for those who do use and need them.
“I am proud not to use the portion of my taxes that go towards the police services or fire services,” Decter Hirst said. “I rarely go to Rideau Park or Stanley Park, but I am delighted to pay taxes for those. I wish I was using the Sportsplex pool more regularly, but I am proud to pay my taxes for those services. We are a community that pays taxes for a community good.”
Greg Hutsal, a local property owner who would be affected by this plan, sat through Monday’s debate in the council chamber and disagreed with Rice’s assessment that property owners will profit from this plan.
“Differentiating residential garbage from one style of building to another, I don’t think it’s a fair representation to call it commercial garbage because it’s not,” Hutsal said. “It’s not produced by a commercial enterprise. Let’s get away from that characterization. We are all citizens of Brandon and we all produce domestic garbage. That’s what this is.”
City operations general manager Rod Sage said during the course of debate that the request for proposals from private garbage collectors can help provide cost certainties that property owners will seek at a later date, before the plan is implemented.
“That’s how I envisioned this whole process would go,” Sage said. “If we went out to an RFP and those numbers were higher than we had put in our report, then obviously we have a problem. We are hoping to come in with lower numbers. It’s an unknown, but I need council’s approval to go forward. That’s why we are having this debate.”
Hutsal said one question remains unanswered from Monday’s debate.
“If they are going out for proposals, did they pre-approve this plan?” Hutsal said. “If they get good proposals, go ahead. But if they don’t get good proposals, are they going ahead anyway? I’m not clear on this. Are we being premature or are we ready to go there? I’m not necessarily against this, but I want to know what we are in for.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 3, 2012