Saskatoon·Updated

Saskatoon councillors explore moving garbage, organics program to utility-fee model

Garbage pickup and the upcoming curbside organics program are currently included in city taxes, while curbside recycling is a utility payment. The city is exploring how moving to a utility-style system for garbage and organics collection as well would impact its finances.

Garbage pickup, upcoming organics program currently included in city taxes; recycling shows up on utility bill

City councillors will discuss the future of garbage and curbside organics at a committee meeting on Monday. (Submitted/Studio D Photography)

Saskatoon city councillors discussed moving garbage collection and the upcoming curbside organics program to a utility model at a committee meeting on Monday.

Right now, both garbage pickup and the curbside organics program are included in city taxes. Curbside recycling, however, has always been a utility payment, and shows up on homeowners' monthly City of Saskatoon utility bills.

Coun. Mairin Loewen made two motions at Monday's meeting of the city's governance and priorities subcommittee, both of which were carried.

The first asked administration to report back on the timelines for a phase-in of a waste utility model as soon as 2022. The second asked administration to report back with options to address concerns about affordability for low-income households.

"Because of COVID we find ourselves staring down at substantial property tax increases," said  Loewen at the meeting.

"Moving this service from a property tax funded model to a utility model would reduce those property taxes and eventually give residents greater control in terms of their ability to manage some of their household costs related to waste."

In June, council asked administration to examine what moving to a utility-style system for garbage and organics collection as well could look like, and how it would impact city finances.

The organics pickup program is set to roll out in 2023.

The city is "facing budgetary pressures due to stagnant revenue growth and rising expenditures," according to a report presented at Monday's meeting.

Under the current model, "a substantial increase in municipal property taxes may be required to balance the city's operating budget," it says.

Moving to a user-fee model for waste collection could be "one way to avoid persistent large property tax increases," the report says, noting that's "a common approach used in many cities."

Moving waste collection to utility payments would reduce property taxes.

The city's report estimates that the increase to the city's indicative (or expected) tax rate for 2023 would be cut by 5.11 per cent if both organics and garbage collection moved to a utility model that year. 

However, the increase in utility fees would mean many people should expect to pay more money under the change, the different scenarios presented in the report suggest.

According to the report, under the status quo, an average home would pay the equivalent of $13.79 month for waste collection in 2023, through a combination of property taxes and the home's utility bill.

Moving waste collection to a utility model would result in an estimated total monthly cost of $24.05 for the average household, the report says.

The report also shows the budget implications of moving either organics or garbage pickup only to the utility model.

A chart from a City of Saskatoon report shows the estimated changes from moving all waste collection to a utility-fee model. (City of Saskatoon)

The report suggests the city could offset the added cost to affected homeowners by offering annual grants over two years that would gently ease people into the new system.

Other than lowering property taxes, the report said moving to a utility based model had other benefits.

For one, the change would put a price on garbage pickup and would create stronger incentives to use other means of getting rid of waste.

As well, the utility change would make garbage pickup more equitable for homes in higher-taxed areas, the report says. Homes that pay higher property taxes subsidize the cost for households in lower-taxed neighbourhoods.

Further, commercial properties that have their own garbage pickup setup still pay for residential pickup through property taxes, essentially being taxed twice, according to the report.

Changing over to a utility model would not necessarily bring in variable pricing for different cart sizes or a "pay as you throw" system that tracks the amount of garbage a household is generating, although that could later become the case, the report says.

It also says there would be costs involved in moving the garbage system to a waste utility. If council was interested in the change, that price would need to be assessed before the change would be made in 2023.

Organics collection

Administration also reported back on whether the city or a private company should be involved in collecting curbside organics in the new program.

While Green Prairie Environmental Ltd. was selected to run the program a year ago, a decision had not yet been made on who would pick up the carts.

A motion passed at Monday's meeting recommended that the city in-source city-wide collection of organic waste. 

The committee had been given two options. The first would see administration tender out the project, then begin a request for a proposals approach to companies that would detail the cost, company experience and quality assurance. 

The second option, which was carried, was to in-source, which could give council greater flexibility to change the program in the future if needed, including bin sizes and schedule variations.

The report also noted that both city-run and private companies might have issues meeting program budgets, and costs could rise as a result.

Decisions made at the committee meeting still have to be addressed by council.

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