Questions linger as Saskatoon councillors vote in favour of pay-as-you-throw garbage utility

City councillors in Saskatoon have taken an important step toward big changes to the city's garbage system. However, it will be months until more details of the programs become available.

Councillors agree to allocate $8.5 million for green carts, year-round organics collection program

The City of Saskatoon has voted in favour of mandatory organic waste program, designed to divert garbage away from the landfill. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC)

City councillors in Saskatoon have taken an important step toward big changes to the city's garbage system. However, it will be months until more details of the programs become available.

On Monday morning, councillors voted in favour of a pay-as-you-throw garbage system, where citizens would pay a utility fee, instead of paying for garbage through property taxes. Citizens would be able to choose between several sizes of garbage bins and be billed accordingly.

"What we are saying is that there's no double-dipping," said Mayor Charlie Clark. "It's really important that we are transparent and that we outline the cost of these programs."

Council also voted in favour of a city-wide mandatory organics program, which would collect food and yard waste.

It's still not known how much the programs will cost taxpayers per month. While more details are expected in a report this fall, capital costs for new carts, trucks and deployment could run anywhere between $13 to $22 million. 

Broken down, the cost of new carts for the organics program is expected to cost $8.5 million, just under one dollar per household every month over the next 10 years. As well, if the city decides to collect organics every month in the summer, new trucks could cost $8.5 million.

Until I have answers, I can't make decisions on things.- Councillor Troy Davies

"This is a very high-level budget estimate," said Amber Weckworth, manager of education and environmental performance for the city. "We won't know more particular details until we start doing some of the procurement."

Several councillors were frustrated that details around a number of issues such as how the city would deal with illegal dumping, collection of large items and potential advertisements on garbage trucks.

"I had a lot of meetings on this on the weekend, and I didn't have a whole lot of answers," said Coun. Troy Davies. "Until I have answers, I can't make decisions on things. And today, I don't think I have those answers to effectively make that decision."

Members of the administration advised councillors that if they didn't support the recommendations, a proposed roll-out date of fall 2019 could be in jeopardy.

We need to actually start ticking off some of these decisions.- Councillor Mairin Loewen

"We need to actually start ticking off some of these decisions," said Coun. Mairin Loewen. "Some dominos need to fall before we have the information we need to have to communicate with residents."

The city's goal is to reach 70 per cent waste diversion by 2023. Currently, Saskatoon's diversion rate sits at 22.8 per cent, one of the lowest rates in the country.

As well, the city is concerned about building a new landfill. Administration estimates it would cost approximately $26 million to close the current landfill and $100 million to build a new one.

Even though the city plans to change the way taxpayers pay for garbage disposal, all councillors agreed the total cost of the new system will be going up for almost everyone.

"In adding an organics program, there will be additional costs," said Clark. "We can lower the cost from the mill rate from garbage collection and put it into a utility model, but it will cost people more to go down this road."

Many other questions, from deferred payment for people who have difficulty paying for the program to mobility issues will be dealt with by administration either this fall or next spring.

The matter will go before city council later this month.


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