By Chad Ingram
Minden Hills staff are recommending additional fees at the township’s landfills – including a fee for the replacement of lost landfill cards – to help offset the operating budget for waste disposal.
“This is pre-budget,” said Mayor Brent Devolin, noting that any decisions about the fee suggestions would be made within the context of council’s 2021 budget discussions.
“We identified quite a few financial pressures,” said waste facilities manager Tara Stephen during a Nov. 12 committee-of-the-whole meeting, “ . . . and we wanted to find some means of generating revenue to offset those budget pressures.”
As Stephen noted, the cost of contracted services continues to rise, with about half of the township’s waste disposal work done through contractors, about half in-house. She also noted that collapsing commodity markets around the world, particularly for recyclable materials, has meant municipal governments are not generating as much revenue for materials such as scrap metal as they once did. Also, Stephen said a number of funding programs that once helped support waste disposal operations have been discontinued.
It means that waste disposal operations are largely supported by the township’s tax base at this point in time.
“The issue with that is that the tax base, while it’s paying for this programming, doesn’t equally contribute to it,” Stephen said. “So there are people who contribute very little cost to the tax base, they produce half a bag of garbage and some household recycling every week, and that’s it.”
“And there are people within the tax base who create enormous costs to our system,” she continued, “and what we’re trying to do with some of the suggestions in this report is just help shift the cost of our waste management system from the tax base onto the users creating the cost.”
One of those suggestions is introducing a $5 fee to replace lost landfill cards.
“In 2020, we replaced 357 cards, and that’s just to date,” Stephen said, noting there had been a couple of requests since the report was written. “It’s quite a time-consuming process and while [it’s a nominal cost], it’s a cost on the tax base that is really not necessary to have there.”
Stephen estimated the cost of replacing the 357 landfill cards was about $1,300.
“Implementing a small fee of $5 for replacing cards could generate revenue of $1,700, which would cover the cost of managing that program, and it would also discourage people from losing their cards,” she said.
Another suggestion is increased tipping fees for furniture left at the landfill.
“Our current tipping fee is $10 per unit, which is a steal,” Stephen said. “Our cost to manage each piece of furniture we get in the landfill site is about $18, so we’re losing almost $8 for every piece of furniture that arrives at our site.”
It was Stephen’s recommendation the tipping fee for furniture be raised to $20 per unit, which would offset the cost of managing the program.
“I’m proposing we also implement a fee for leaf and yard waste,” she said. “ . . . Many municipalities are starting to charge for this material, because it is an enormous administrative burden managing it, and a significant cost to managing it as well.”
“Historically, we use leaf and yard waste as landfill cover,” Stephen said. “It’s a terrible landfill cover, and I will tell you that right now. It creates odours, it contributes to leachate outbreaks, which as you know are a big problem at our site, and so we’ve stopped doing that.”
The municipality does not have permission in its environmental compliance approval from the province to compost leaves on-site. “We’re working towards it, but there’s still a cost to composting even if you were to compost this material. So right now, we are in a position where we need to ship it off site to be properly managed . . . and we anticipate $45,000 a year in costs associated with that.”
The township currently charges a tipping fee for the disposal of sticks and brush.
“So we’re proposing that we extend that tipping fee over to leaves, grass, pine needles stream of material,” Stephen said, adding the recommended fee was $2 per bag, a flat rate of $15 for loads under one cubic yard, and then $30 per cubic yard over that. “This almost precisely covers our costs on it,” she said.
Stephen said staff was hoping to implement the fee changes for January of 2021.
Another recommendation dealt with contaminated soil, for which a fee of $20 per cubic yard is currently charged and the recommendation is $30 per cubic yard, which staff say would cover associated costs.
“Some wonderful food for thought for our 2021 budget process,” Devolin said.
Councillor Pam Sayne wondered about a distinction between commercial and residential rates, and also wondered about a system where landfill cards would be barcoded.
“Right now, the cards are just a piece of paper that have no ID with them, no accountability to them, and can be handed out easily for another $5,” Sayne said.
Stephen said there could be investigation of Sayne’s suggestions, and agreed that data collected through barcoded cards would be valuable to the township’s waste management process.
“Let’s go through the budget process and decide what your numbers should be,” said Councillor Bob Carter. “If going through the total budget process we find that our costs are really going to escalate in one area or another, it may be that a piece of furniture goes to $22, or whatever it is. I think that this is a good exercise, and we should set our fees dependent on what our costs are actually going to be.”