Saskatoon homeowners to start paying monthly bills for garbage pickup by early 2020

City councillors finalized the details of their waste reduction plan Monday after months of debate.

City councillors finalized the details of their waste reduction plan Monday after months of debate

Saskatoon residents can expect to pay a monthly fee for garbage collection based on the size of bin they use starting in early 2020. (Guy Quenneville/CBC )

Saskatoon city councillors have approved a plan to have future organics collection service paid for by all of the city's taxpayers via property taxes.

The same plan, however, would have homeowners pay for their garbage collection via monthly bills, based on three different sizes of bins.

Councillors will vote on the final prices for those three bins next year. 

How councillors voted

The vote on charging for waste as a utility was 6-5. Councillors voted along these lines:

  • For: Hilary Gough, Charlie Clark, Sarina Gersher, Cynthia block, Mairin Loewen, Darren Hill (6).
  • Against: Troy Davies, Randy Donauer, Ann Iwachuk, Zach Jeffries, Bev Dubois (5).

The vote on having people pay for organics pickup through property tax drew these votes:

  • For: Hilary Gough, Charlie Clark, Sarina Gersher, Cynthia Block, Mairin Loewen, Darren Hill, Zach Jeffries (7).
  • Against: Troy Davies, Randy Donauer, Ann Iwanchuk, Bev Dubois (4).

The changes aren't expected to take effect until early 2020.

This graphic shows the three garbage bin options, size-wise, homeowners will have under a pay-as-you-throw system. (City of Saskatoon)

City councillors' decision to split the payment methods went against the recommendation of the city, which wanted both organics and garbage collection treated as a utility, with one bundled monthly fee charged to homeowners. 

The city had hoped the utility model would fully cover the cost of garbage collection, help Saskatoon reach its goal of diverting 70 per cent of its waste from the landfill by 2023 and delay a replacement of the city dump that would cost an estimated $120 million.

To what degree the split-model plan can still achieve those goals remains unclear. One city spokesperson said he knew of only one other city, Burnaby, B.C., that had opted for different funding methods for its garbage and organics collecting.

Some city councillors were critical of the city's plan because it didn't immediately cover apartments, condos and commercial businesses.

Cynthia Block wanted to know why homeowners were being used as the new system's guinea pigs ahead of large businesses.

"The [residential] curbside sector is the most complex to design and takes the longest," said city staffer Brenda Wallace.

'I don't believe in penalizing people'

Councillors have taken a measured approach to approving elements of the plan over the last several months.

Some, like Ann Iwanchuk, have questioned whether the name for the proposed garbage overhaul, pay-as-you-throw, is appropriate given that homeowners would be charged fixed monthly fees regardless of how much garbage is actually in their bin or if they're even living in Saskatoon at the time of collection.

Iwanchuk wanted to delay Monday's vote but didn't get enough support from other councillors.

"What's been heralded throughout this whole process is 'We need to change behaviour. We need to charge people significantly more than they would be paying than if they had to pay through the tax base.'

"I don't believe in penalizing people to try to get good behaviour."

Concillor Ann Iwanchuk was most critical of the plan to move ahead with the changes, worrying especially that the new garbage pricing system would result in "gouging." (Chanss Lagaden)

Both Block and Iwanchuk brought up the possibility of a Pay As You Tip system, in which the actual amount of garbage in people's bins is weighed electronically so that people can by billed by weight.

City staffer Russ Munro said the operating cost of such a system would be "significantly" higher than pay-as-you-throw.

But councillor Mairin Loewen said Monday's decision is at least a step toward that.

"We still have a very high potential for waste diversion," she said. "I think we solved some of our funding issues and finally I think it does position us to more easily move toward perhaps a more sophisticated pay per tip model at some point in the future."

Step by step

Monday's decision on funding was previously delayed by some councillors' requests for more information.

In particular, they wanted to know if funding each service a different way (recycling as a property tax and garbage as a utility fee, say) would contribute to greater contamination of the recycling stream.

According to the city's recycling contractor, there is a risk that organics and recycling could become more contaminated if garbage is collected via the more publicly-visible option of monthly bills.

But the city said "there is no clear evidence that funding approach impacts contamination," suggesting instead that plastic bags, pet waste, diapers education and collection frequency present a greater danger.

Debt repayment

The speed at which the city would pay back any money borrowed to launch pay-as-you-throw will not be affected by how collection is paid for, the city added.

Either way, the city expects it would repay the loans over 10 years at three per cent interest.

Monday's city council meeting begins at 1 p.m. CST. You can watch a live stream of the meeting here.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

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