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Edmonton will see utility rate hike; council may consider full privatization of garbage collection

Garbage sits outside a dumpster in north Edmonton.
Garbage sits outside a dumpster in north Edmonton. Supplied, City of Edmonton

City council’s utilities committee recommended Friday that Edmonton utility bills should go up 2.5 per cent a year for four years.

That would increase residents’ monthly bills by $1.15 for single-family homes and $0.75 for multi-family units. By the time the fourth year rolls by, that would be close to $60 annually for single-family homes.

READ MORE: Edmonton utility budget calls for 2.5% increases over 4 years, details still to come

The increase is to pay for the new way garbage will be collected at the curb, including supplying residents with carts to sort organic and recyclable waste, as well as modernizing the truck fleet that will lift and dump those carts, and to replace the composter that is on its last legs while the building it’s in has deteriorated.

The growing budget is also designed to hit the waste diversion rates — that were once hailed as 90 per cent diversion from the landfill but haven’t come close.

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READ MORE: Edmonton’s long-praised waste management system struggling to divert 50% of residential garbage

Councillors are looking at ways to have costs and utility rates come in as low as possible. The door was opened to abandoning a long-standing practice of having half the city get its garbage collection from private contractors, while the other half would see city crews doing the work.

Jim Beckett, a policy advisor to the utilities committee, told the meeting the city should re-evaluate the long-time practice.

“If the city-based crews are not showing an advantage over the contractors, then there’s a bit of a problem there.”

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Beckett said the private companies have to build in a margin, unlike the city.

“Contractors are generating enough revenue to create return, to pay income taxes, none of which the city collection efforts have to support. So if the city collection costs are not lower than the contractor costs, it’s time to have another look at that arrangement.”

Watch below – Feb. 16, 2018: You might soon be forced to change how you handle your garbage. City officials are proposing new rules that would require people to separate their garbage and prevent them from throwing out grass. And that’s just the beginning. Fletcher Kent reports.

Changes could be on the way for Edmonton garbage separation
Changes could be on the way for Edmonton garbage separation
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That’s prompted Councillor Michael Walters to see if the switch to a fully privatized system should happen now.

“Right now this private-versus-public debate, holding-each-other-in-check assumption, is a little old school in my view and we should look at it again.”

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READ MORE: City wants your opinion about future of Edmonton waste management

The thinking was when the city went to the current system a couple of decades ago, the two factions would create competition so neither cost would get out of whack.

Councillor Ben Henderson, the chairman of the committee, told reporters he doesn’t see any cause for concern since the prices on both sides of the equation are relatively close.

“If the 50 per cent lines up and is really close to the cost that’s costing us ourselves, that would suggest to me that we’re getting a fair deal out of both.

“The system was set up to make sure that we were getting a fair deal. It’s a kind of check and balance to ask exactly the kind of questions being asked.”

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READ MORE: Does that go in recycling? Test your Edmonton recycling smarts with our quiz

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Yet Walters said the time is now to at least consider a change.

“We have opportunities for adjustments in this period. Contracts are being re-examined. The scope of the system is being re-examined in terms of services provided. And the scope of the system in terms of thinking about it regionally is being re-examined, so everything’s kind of open right now.”

READ MORE: Edmonton looking at whole new garbage collection system

The 2.5 per cent rate hike is expected to generate, city wide, an extra $5 million in revenue in each of the next four years. The current revenue for waste management is $189 million.

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