Lots of interest in taking over garbage system

  • May. 21, 2008 8:00 p.m.

by Alex Rinfret–Three businesses, one local government and one individual have expressed an interest in taking over all or part of the islands garbage system, regional district administrator John Holland told members of the solid waste advisory committee last week (May 15). The three businesses are O’Brien Road and Bridge Maintenance of Port Clements, Big Red Enterprises of Tlell, and Masset Services, which all responded to an ad placed by the regional district last month. Mr. Holland said he also received an expression of interest from the Old Massett Village Council to run the recycling program, as well as a proposal from Daryl Collerman, the chair of the waste advisory committee. Mr. Collerman’s proposal calls for a non-profit society to take over responsibility for the entire system. The society would be set up very much like the existing solid waste advisory committee, with a representative from each community making decisions at monthly meetings. However, at the May 15 meeting, Mr. Holland told Mr. Collerman that he would not be able to submit his proposal as the chair of the advisory committee, but only as an individual islander. That’s because the advisory committee may become involved in evaluating more detailed proposals from the proponents at a later date and helping the regional district decide how the garbage system will be run in the future. Some committee members expressed uneasiness with the idea of making significant changes to the system, saying the regional district’s ad had taken them completely by surprise. All four of the landfill employees attended the meeting, and charge hand Thor Collison told Mr. Holland that they were extremely unhappy to see the regional district looking to contract out their jobs. Mr. Collison said morale has plummeted since employees saw the ad and that he wouldn’t be surprised if they started looking for other work, given their uncertain future at the landfill. Mr. Holland responded that the garbage system lost more than $200,000 last year and that the regional district directors have decided that changes must be made. The board has not made any decisions yet, he said. Directors are simply exploring different ideas, and may or may not decide to contract out the system. Mr. Collison said he had gone over the islands waste budget provided by Mr. Holland several times and couldn’t understand how the system could have lost so much money when there are fewer workers than in previous years and no unnecessary expenditures that he could see. His comments were echoed by Paul Bell, who drives the recycling truck. “It’s not like we’re spending for nothing,” Mr. Bell told the committee. “We’re not throwing money away, we’re bare-bones everything.” The amount of garbage and recycling produced by islanders has increased, Mr. Bell and Mr. Collison said, and the landfill workers are working as fast as they can to deal with it. What started out as a hole in the ground 10 years ago is now an enormous tower of trash, some of it blowing onto the highway, providing a feast for flocks of ravens, eagles, raccoons and feral cats. “We’ve got piles of things we’ve got to do, and not enough staff,” Mr. Collison said. “Basically, we’re not happy.” Mr. Holland explained in detail what was spent at the landfill site in 2007 and what the budget is for this year. Staff wages and benefits came to $238,000 last year, including 30 percent of the salary of waste superintendent Tim Deschamps, who works out of the Prince Rupert office. This year, Mr. Holland has budgeted $210,000 for staff wages and benefits, and has not included a portion of Mr. Deschamps’s salary. In most areas of the budget, costs are pretty much the same or lower this year than last year, except for a fresh $85,000 which will go towards the preparation of a new phase of the landfill. The biggest changes in the 2008 budget are in the revenue side, with the regional district raising the tax requisition, the monthly user fees, the tipping fees, and the amount the band councils contribute. Overall, garbage system revenues will come to almost a million dollars this year, although the regional district plans to spend only $885,000, slightly less than it did last year. The extra revenue will go towards paying off the deficit from last year, Mr. Holland explained. (Mr. Holland added that the Skidegate Band Council has balked at paying the $93,000 the regional district has requested this year. The amount is a 62 percent increase from Skidegate’s previous annual contribution of $57,000. Discussions between the two parties are continuing.) After reviewing the budget, some committee members suggested the monthly user fee – which went up to $22 on April 1 from $17 – should be hiked even higher. Islanders started out paying $20 a month when the system was set up in the mid-1990s, and the regional district lowered the fee twice over the years, so the current fee isn’t much of an increase in that context. “We have not been charging enough, and that is the truth,” Mr. Collerman said after looking over the numbers. Recycling south representative John Wesley said companies like BC Ferries and Air Canada don’t hesitate to raise fares to reflect increasing expenses and the garbage system should take the same approach. Committee members then voted to end the long tradition of allowing each community an annual free dump day, at least until the financial picture improves. They made the decision after Queen Charlotte representatives Eric Ross and Greg Martin requested a free day for their village on May 31. Masset representative Brent Buell said it just didn’t make sense to incur the extra expense when the committee had just heard that their employees are overworked and that there is not enough money in the system. Committee members also decided to hold their next meeting at the landfill site rather than renting the Port Clements village office for $75. The next meeting is scheduled for June 19.