Barrie condo owners might soon get relief from “paying double” for garbage collection. City Council has agreed to cost into its 2015 budget either rebating or providing front-end waste pick-up service to multi-residential complexes. But that budget is subject to final approval on March 9.
Around 90 per cent of Barrie’s 272 multi-residential complexes rely on front-end garbage collection. The city’s existing curbside collection program lacks the special trucks with retractable forks needed to hoist large waste containers over the trucks’ cabs. The result in at least some cases is that condo owners pay toward both city garbage collection through their property taxes and private garbage collection through their maintenance fees.
Local condo boards have lobbied the City on the issue in the past. On Nov. 22, 2012, the City of Barrie received a petition signed by 183 residents of 37 Ellen St. that called on the City to either rebate the fees paid by the condo corporation for private garbage and recycling pick-up or contract those collection services to City providers. On Feb. 20, 2013, the City of Barrie received the same petition, endorsed by another 101 residents, from the Bayclub.
Gary Lyon, condo director, the Bayclub, said his condo corporation pays around $4,000 per year for private garbage collection, which would otherwise be returned to owners’ pockets.
“Obviously that’s an incremental cost we wouldn’t have or shouldn’t have given the ratepayers in our building are all paying for City collection,” he said. “That’s like a tax on living in a high-rise, which obviously we don’t like and was the basis for our original petition.”
Mayor Jeff Lehman first learned of the issue nearly 10 years ago, when he was elected councillor of Ward 2. The ward captures the city’s historic downtown and waterfront, where a majority of Barrie’s high-rise condos are found.
Lehman has previously tried to get the issue on Barrie’s agenda but faced pushback from his council colleagues. Now mayor, he has gained some traction. However, the issue is more nuanced than it appears on first glance, he said.
“I have always felt that condo owners were paying twice for the service,” Lehman explained, “but, by privately contracting for bin tipping, they’re essentially paying for a higher level of service, because we would actually, as the city, pick up curbside.”
In the past, some of his council colleagues have argued condo corporations could avoid paying twice by participating in the city’s curbside collection. But, Lehman pointed out, curbside pick-up is impractical for condos.
“It’s unreasonable for us to be saying to condos, ‘Just dump your mound of garbage on your curb and we’ll pick it up,’” he said. “From a public health point of view, from an aesthetic point of view, from a simple functional point of view, that’s not really feasible either.”
One comprise, Lehman said, might be for the City to subsidize bin-tipping, but he added that he will await a staff report to determine the most “economical and equitable” approach. A subsidy could potentially take the form of a flat rebate per household or a full reimbursement to condo corporations for a standard level of service.
Alternatively, the City could extend its waste collection service to include front-end bin-tipping. In 2013, the City of Barrie invited haulers to bid on pricing for multi-residential front-end garbage collection service. The lowest of three bids at that time was an annual cost of $230,000.
A Feb. 9 staff report from Environmental Services noted that the Municipal Act sets out that property taxes are based on property assessments rather than use of services. However, the report went on to say that a survey of 18 municipalities turned up three municipalities that provide a property tax rebate to multi-residential properties that use a private hauler. The survey also turned up eight municipalities that provide front-end garbage collection to these types of properties.
Whether City Council will proceed with rebating or extending front-end garbage collection to condos is next due to be discussed at general committee on March 2.
“It’s in the budget for now, but I think it’s fair to say it ain’t over yet,” Lehman said, “because council was willing to say, ‘Yes, look at this and put it in the budget, but subject to our final budget debate as to whether we want to add this service this year,’ so I think the real debate is still ahead.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.