CITY VIEW – The Great Guelph Rip-off

Posted July 25, 2013

This city administration under the leadership of Mayor Karen Farbridge, has embarked on an ambitious program to manage waste more effectively and send less material to the landfill.

In almost seven years, the city has spent more than $53 million on capital projects alone not counting staff and contractual costs during that period.

Here’s the kicker. In 2012, according to the city’s own financial statements, some $465.97 per household was spent to manage its waste. In 2011, Guelph’s waste management expenditure was $386.97. The $33 million organics plant was activated in 2012 along with the partial introduction of the carts. It created a huge increase in operational expenditures. In one year, Guelph’s waste management spending went up 20.4 per cent.

Previous analysis showed that in 2011, Guelph’s waste management expenditures was 71.1 per cent higher than the average of five municipalities. These included Oxford County, the Region of Halton, Barrie, Stratford and London. The average per capita costs of waste management in those municipalities, was $225.60. The waste management costs in those five cities ranged from a high of $316 to a low of $159.

Has Guelph’s waste management team gone off the reservation? Already the cart roll out is hitting thousands of snags and protest. Some who are able to store the three carts on their property have expressed satisfaction with the $15 million program. But it has brought up a long-term problem for the city, known as a leader in waste diversion from the landfill, that been has ignored for years.

There are 6,400 condominium residences in the city that are not serviced by the waste management department. The city, for a variety of reasons, refuses to pick-up garbage from these residences. They must hire private contractors to haul the unsorted waste to the transfer station. Most of that goes directly to the landfill.

Owners of these condominiums must pay for waste collection through their property taxes regardless of whether they receive the service or not.

Let’s do the math. There are 6,400 condo households in the city. Last year they paid through their taxes the equivalent of $465.97 per household for waste removal and processing.

That comes to $2,982,208 paid to the city for a basic service the owners did not receive. This results in the condo owners subsidizing the cost of waste management for those residents who do receive the service.

Does this sound fair and equitable or a failure to administer a city-wide system of waste collection?

Representatives of the condo owners appeared at a city council committee to state their case for a rebate because the city would not collect their garbage. Coun. Karl Wettstein said that residents cannot “cherry-pick” city services provided to all residents. He said taxpayers have to pay a portion of the costs of Guelph Transit even though they don’t use it.

That specious argument was once used by another city councillor, Ian Findlay. Both these elected officials don’t seem to realize that waste management is a vital service that impacts on the health and life style of the whole community. That’s why the condo owners must pay for private pick-up of their garbage. You can’t leave the stuff lying around.

What don’t they understand about that? Are they suggesting that an optional service such as public iransit is the same as processing waste? Besides, no one is asking for their money back because they don’t use Guelph Transit.

The condo owners are requesting a rebate on their municipal taxes to help offset the costs of using private contractors. The City of Waterloo recently awarding such a rebate to its condo owners in which the city could not collect waste.

Not all condominiums are created equal. There are hi-rise buildings with more than 100 suites and land condos of freestanding residences and linked housing. Imagine a new downtown condo hi-rise with 122 suites storing 366 carts on a postage stamp-sized lot for waste removal.

Letter writer Tony Leighton suggested a hybrid waste collection system that allowed those residences without pick-up services to use the former three plastic bag system. It is an interesting suggestion but ultimately expensive option.

The real problem lies with the city administration’s waste management staff that planned this cart system without considering that a large and growing portion of the community could not be serviced with the carts.Waterloo has waste management expenditures of $301.12 per household Compare that to Guelph’s per household expenditure of $465.97. Is that not an out-of-control runaway of waste management spending?

When the finger-pointing starts watch for a number of councillors to duck for cover. There is no other way to describe this debacle than to call it the Great Guelph rip-off of some 6,400 taxpaying households.

This entire waste management exercise has saddled all taxpayers with millions of dollars of debt and fails to serve the whole community.

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2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “CITY VIEW – The Great Guelph Rip-off

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    While Gerry highlights a major shortcoming in the new waste mismanagement system, the whole debacle could have been readily avoided if the brain trust (now that’s an oxymoron) of city council and the administration had pursued other lower cost options such as shipping green bag contents to the new Hamilton facility. The urge to leave a legacy facility and waste handling system overcame common sense (which the council and administration seem to lack in spades), with the resultant legacy being a humungous financial burden on the citizens of Guelph.

    • Glen N. Tolhurst: Sadly that horse is out of the barn and Guelph taxpayers will be paying for the Farbridge inspired folly long after she’s gone. Rumour department: Is it true that the architect of this debacle, Dr. Janet Laird, is contemplating retirement? Be still my heart!

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