Saskatoon’s garbage utility fees a ‘step in the right direction’: researcher

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WATCH ABOVE: Saskatoon’s pay-as-you-throw garbage model incentivizes waste diversion from the landfill, according to Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission – Nov 21, 2018

Saskatoon city council’s move to charge utilities for garbage collection has the backing of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission.

The self-described group of “independent, policy-minded Canadian economists” recommended a pay-as-you-throw program for collecting garbage in an October 2018 study.s

READ MORE: Saskatoon to charge garbage collection fee, fund organics program with taxes

The report found charging for garbage as a utility rather than through property taxes incentivizes people to send less garbage to the landfill.

“It essentially makes a clear connection between how much waste households generate and how much they pay, and in doing so, can make the overall waste system more efficient,” said Jonathan Arnold, senior research associate at Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission.

Saskatoon has goal of diverting 70 per cent of its waste from the landfill by 2023. Transitioning to a new landfill would cost roughly $150 million.

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On Monday, Saskatoon city council approved a contentious plan that will see the cost of garbage collection from Saskatoon houses no longer be funded by property taxes.

Instead, homeowners will receive a monthly bill, estimated to run from six to eleven dollars, depending on the size of garbage cart a household chooses.

A new organics, or ‘green cart’, program will be covered through property taxes without changing the mill rate, according to city administration.

“I think ideally, you would have all of the different services of organics, recycling and garbage paid through user fees,” Arnold said.

“But if that’s the decision the council is comfortable with right now, that’s fine.”

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City administration recommended charging utility fees for both waste and organics to lower property taxes by 3.5 per cent, but the proposal didn’t receive council approval.

Calling Monday’s vote “a step in the right direction,” Arnold said the city could continue moving toward user fees and away from property taxes.

In Beaconsfield, Que., residential garbage output declined by 50 per cent after it moved to the pay-as-you-throw model, Arnold said.

Now the community of 19,300 has a variable rate and a fixed rate for garbage collection, though homeowners only pay the variable portion when they roll bins to the curb.

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Adding utility fees without lowering property taxes has been met with criticism from many in Saskatoon.

Todd MacKay, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said coherent arguments could be made for a fee for service model over a tax bill.

“But they should’ve done that within the context of not jacking costs for residents in Saskatoon,” MacKay said.

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Changes to Saskatoon’s garbage collection begin in 2020.

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