New scheme proposed to pay for dump

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Dump worker David Jourdenais says he was told to expect the installation of a new system in the near future at the Hay River landfill.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Dump worker David Jourdenais says he was told to expect the installation of a new system in the near future at the Hay River landfill.

Town council has before it a new proposal that would see the funding model for the landfill changed, with residents charged not through taxes but through a separate bill.

“We’re looking at implementing a new structure,” Mayor Andrew Cassidy explained. “The proposal is to make it more of a utility and not a town service, which is the way it currently operates.”

The plan, presented by director of public works Todd Pittman as part of this year’s budgeting process, would see a $18.50 per month charge from each household put toward the landfill facility. The plan also makes provisions to charge more for commercial and industrial waste, said Pittman, as they make up the bulk of what goes into the landfill, a ratio which is not currently reflected in the fee structure.

“Under the current model where taxes pay for the service, the financial onus for the service is largely on the residential taxpayer, whereas the largest generator of wastes are commercial and industrial sources,” Pittman told council at an Oct. 27 meeting.

A subsequent presentation the following week outlined that of the 4,800 tonnes of waste produced each year, only about 1,300 tonnes was deemed residential, with commercial users producing the lion’s share at nearly 3,200 tonnes.

“We need to have a landfill,” said Cassidy. “It’s not like other town services, we don’t have a choice but to provide that facility… if council decided that recreation services were no longer its mandate, then those services could be scaled back. We don’t have that option with the landfill.”

As the facility functions as a utility, Pittman proposed to fund it like one too.

Other municipalities across Canada, including Yellowknife, have switched to a similar model. Essentially, residents would get a bill similar to their water and sewer bill each month, but instead of varying with their usage, it would be a flat rate of $18.50 per month. Cassidy said this would be the first “baby-step” towards a pay-per-use system.

“It doesn’t go that far, but systems do exist in which each container is weighed when picked up and a barcode scanned, to assign it to a specific household,” he said. “We’re starting to see where discrete dollars are going towards this facility, it wouldn’t be lumped in with the general fund anymore.”

Municipalities in the territory get the most of their income from Department of Municipal and Community Affairs transfer payments. The funding formula has been undergoing extensive modification for the greater part of the last year, and Cassidy said that the department is also now recognizing landfills as utilities.

While council seemed generally receptive to the changes, deputy mayor Donna Lee Jungkind expressed concerns as to the fate of the ever-popular town cleanup, which happens every spring.

It’s an occasion where crews look for and dispose of discarded garbage and clear brush in the area.

The town stopped doing it for three years prior to starting it again in 2013.

Jungkind said not only did residents complain about the lack of service, but the esthetics of the community suffered as well.

Beyond the high cost of the annual practice, Pittman explained that the service was not included in the proposal because of the high pressure it puts on the facility. The cleanup alone accounts for 25 per cent of the waste in the landfill each year.

Other councillors said residents often hoard their garbage until it can be hauled away with little trouble and no cost to them, and suggested other options for dealing with the problem. Pittman agreed that there would have to be a shift in philosophy towards waste production and it would have to happen fast. The current site will need to be shut down in anywhere from six to 16 years and there isn’t any spare cash lying around to meet the $12 million-price tag of a new facility.

“According to the last study, we have eight to 10 years left there if we don’t change the way we’re doing things, and that study is now two years old,” he said. “What we’re doing is not sustainable.”

–Sarah Ladik