Thursday, November 13, 2008

More trash talk

First of all, I must commend the City of Toronto for its quick response. I left a message with one of the project communicators for the new garbage program, and she called me back within an hour. When I'm not calling from a major newspaper, that's a pretty fast response.

She explained the program and pricing very well and cleared up some of the concerns I raised in yesterday's post. But I'm still not convinced that the system is universally fair and that it doesn't discriminate against people who live in small multi-family buildings (that is, places with 2-8 apartments... the city has a different program for what it calls "multi-unit" dwellings, which are larger apartment blocks).

First, the garbage fee is not being applied to the water bill, it will be part of a new water and waste bill. Still a lousy deal for tenants who pay for all their utilities, but I recognize that a minority of people who live in apartments pay their water bills directly. Then again, isn't fair treatment of a minority one of those principles we're supposed to consider as a society?

Okay, so each building pays for garbage collection through its property taxes. Under the new system, each building will instead pay a garbage fee, based on the size of its container. That fee is given a $209 rebate annually. Why $209? Because it's the average amount paid for garbage collection in the city.

Where this breaks down, from my perspective, is that not all buildings are equal. Buildings with two or three apartments often have higher assessments and pay higher taxes. Which would mean that the tenants will, under the new system, end up paying for garbage collection twice. Once with the new fee and again because the $209 rebate won't fully offset the difference that they pay indirectly through property taxes.

Each building gets the $209 rebate once, no matter how many units there are, no matter how many families live there, no matter how many bins they have (you can have more bins, you just pay more).

The city encourages "bin sharing" to avoid extra fees. That's a good idea, and the reason why I'll be sharing the second-smallest bin with my neighbours. That bin will cost us $39/year after the rebate. But if I didn't have to share with my neighbours, I could use a bin half that size... no, I wouldn't pay half as much ($19.50), but instead would get a $10 rebate.

If I lived in the single-family house next door and generated the same amount of waste as I do now, I'd be getting a rebate. So would my neighbours.

So I have yet to get an explanation that really makes clear how this system is in the least bit a fair one. If one of the experts from the City of Toronto is reading, please do use the comments section to set me straight, if I've got this all wrong. I'd rather discover that I'm wrong than feel that the city isn't treating tenants in small buildings fairly.


jennie said...

I need to call our landlord about the garbage thing. We have neither a bin nor any pink tags, and I worry that we'll have to sneak out under cover of darkness and stow our (relatively modest amounts of) trash in the neighbours' bins.

Craig Saunders said...

Your comment actually raises two good points. First, that tenants are kept out of the communications loop by the city, which only communicates with landlords. Like you, I have no bin and no tags. And, to the best of my knowledge, no tags have yet arrived for our house.

The second is the issue of illegal dumping. Now, I'm not concerned if someone puts a half bag of trash into my half-empty container on garbage day (once the container arrives, that is), but bag limits do lead to increased illegal dumping.

The alley behind my house has suddenly attracted a few bags of someone's garbage, as well as a shopping cart full of old curtains.

jennie said...

It was my impression that one of the reasons we have tax-supported garbage collection is, indeed, to cut down on illegal dumping. In municipalities where people have to either pay for trash removal or pay at a dump, there tends to be a lot more illegal dumping.

I think we'll see more of that here, now too.

Craig Saunders said...

I expect you're right. The challenge is to weigh the cost of cleaning up illegal dumping with the benefit of reduced volumes of waste overall. I do remember reading one of the city reports that addressed this.

I am having a hard time finding information on the city's website about exactly how much of a savings they expect to see from the new garbage bin program. I expect it's quite low compared to the blue and green bin programs.