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Residents to rally over garbage

City of White Rock to host public information meeting April 1 regarding privatization of services.
Residents of a Thrift Avenue condominium complex are not happy about the City of White Rock’s decision to halt multifamily garbage pickup.

Dozens of White Rock condominium residents plan to rally at city hall next week to protest the city’s decision to privatize solid-waste pickup.

Representatives from 30 condominium complexes met Tuesday evening to discuss the city’s announcement in January that it would no longer be offering public garbage, recycling and organics collection to commercial and multifamily buildings come July 1.

The group – which plans to gather at city hall Monday at noon – has taken particular issue with the fact that city council held no public-information meetings leading up to the decision, which was made in December at an in-camera meeting.

“They’ve done all of this in closed meetings, there’s been no consultation with the people of White Rock,” said Ian Routledge, noting his Thrift Avenue condo will be one of hundreds of multifamily dwellings affected by the change.

City officials, however, dispute the notion that process wasn’t followed.

According to the city’s chief administrative officer, Dan Bottrill, the decision by council to change waste-pickup services was made in line with the Community Charter.

Routledge said the city is hosting a public- information meeting April 1 that will, according to the city’s website, give residents “the opportunity to ask questions to understand privatization, the Metro Vancouver organics ban, the reflection in your municipal-tax levy and more.”

However, Routledge called the city’s effort “insulting,” given the impact the change will have on its residents.

“There are 250 different stratas in White Rock and this is the only way to get any information from the city, and they’ve given us two hours,” he said.

According to a draft operating budget presented by staff at a March 9 finance and audit committee meeting, the city is projected to save $161,000 from July 1 to Dec. 31 of this year as a result of the change, which will “assist in absorbing other expected cost increases without impacting property taxes.”

Routledge, however, said a “conservative” estimate of the cost of private waste removal would be about $2,000 per condo building each year.

“While that doesn’t sound like a lot, there are 250 strata buildings in White Rock, and no garbage removal companies in the city,” he explained. “So, that is $500,000 that will go directly out of the economy of White Rock because of this situation.”

Bottrill said Wednesday it’s “not unusual” to deal with issues that are in closed (meetings), in particular, if there are some negotiations that ultimately have to occur as a result of the decisions that are made,” Bottrill told Peace Arch News Wednesday, noting there are a number of provisions in the Community Charter allowing decisions to be made in-camera.

“One is a provision of municipal services that council may be contemplating, including cessation of a service. That’s the portion of the Community Charter that we were dealing with under these circumstances.”

In addition to the changes on the way for business and multifamily dwellings, changes could be on the way for single-family homes as well.

In the March 9 finance and audit committee meeting, staff presented a 2015 to 2019 draft financial plan, recommending to council that the city charge a “solid waste user fee” for each single-family home, as opposed to using the current general-tax levy – based on property value – to pay for waste pickup.

City staff estimate the fee for the first six months (July 1 to Dec. 31) would be $192.

Bottrill said this proposed change is based on “equity and fairness” for residents in single-family homes.

“It really wasn’t fair when every single-family property is entitled to the same service – two cans of garbage, for example – but depending on the value of your property you were, in effect, paying differentiated taxes, without any correlation to the service that was being provided,” he said.

He noted that if a user-fee system is adopted, some residents may pay more than what they currently pay into the general-tax levy; others may pay less.

The city has also issued a request for proposals – which closes March 24 – on contracting out single-family home collection, to review current operating costs and services and determine how it compares to the private sector.

Condominium residents aren’t the only ones unhappy with the city’s plans to privatize garbage and recycling services. According to the union representing city workers, local members received “overwhelming support” for keeping the services public while handing out information at a White Rock grocery store earlier this month.

“Lots of White Rock residents are already very upset by the city’s decision to stop all multi-family and commercial service with no consultation,” CUPE 402-01 president Mike Guraliuk said in a news release.

Business owners in White Rock who will be affected by the coming changes learned more this month about their options when it comes to hiring a private contractor to remove their garbage, recycling and organics.

The White Rock Business Improvement Association hosted two morning information meetings, March 11 and 18, featuring presentations from two large waste-management companies.

BIA executive director Douglas Smith told PAN that there is some concern among the business community about the changes to commercial pickup, and that the notion of being responsible for contracting a private company to handle their waste has been “daunting” for many business owners.

“It’s going to be a transition that potentially is fraught with many difficulties for both residential and commercial pick up,” Smith said.

– with files from Sarah Massah