Taxpayers could be on the hook for millions of dollars in lost tipping fee revenue from Waterloo Region's Erb Street landfill as competition from private haulers heats up and eats into public profits.
The revelation comes after the Region has closed the door on public consultations into its Waste Management Master Plan, a document that will guide policymakers on how to deal with the region's waste for the next two decades and beyond.
Tom Galloway, chair of Waterloo Region's budget committee and regional councillor for Kitchener, said the region lost $2 million in revenue from commercial tipping fees in 2012 and stands to lose another $2 million this year.
"We're seeing a continuing erosion of those revenues because the private haulers can and are taking their waste to other landfill sites elsewhere in Ontario and particularly in the State of Michigan," he said.
Lighter packaging contributes to declining dump revenue
It's not the only factor chipping away at the region's revenue from tipping fees. Lighter materials used to package goods have made a bad situation worse.
Tipping fees are based on weight. Residential customers pay $2 a load for anything less than 50 kilograms. Commercial operators pay $74 per tonne.
Cari Rastas-Howard, the project manager for the region's waste management programs, says many companies now use light-weight packaging, in order to save on fuel and shipping costs.
"The same volume of garbage we dispose of is getting lighter and therefore not costing as much for people," she said.
Private waste collectors, such as Waste Management, say they too feel the changes.
"We have less waste to potentially work with, so we're seeing the same where there's less coming to our facilities as well," said Luiza Addset public affairs manager for Waste Management.
Lost revenue will have to be accounted for
Addset wouldn't comment on what regional budget chair Tom Galloway called a "direct relationship" between public revenue from landfills and competition from private haulers, such as Waste Management.
"I can't speak to the specifics of that," she said.
Galloway said the lost revenue will have to be made up somehow, either through budget cuts or higher taxes.
"It's not just a matter of losing these revenues, we actually either have to cut the programs that monies are supporting or look at replacing that revenue," he said.
The most recent estimates from the region's finance committee calls for a 1.9 per cent property tax hike for 2014.