Chart from Perth South Feb. 18 Pubic Meeting Agenda package
By Dan Rankin
Though Perth South Council and staff gave a comprehensive look at all areas of their financial plan for the year ahead, the vast majority of input from the public at the Feb. 18 public meeting last Thursday dealt with one specific issue: the municipality’s plan to switch, later this year, from a “bag tag” and “blue box” garbage and recycling collection system to Bluewater Recycling Association’s automated system, which is used here in St. Marys, with its larger, wheelie bins.
“I’ve lived in Sebringville since 1971 and I’ve never had a problem with the garbage pickup the way they’ve got it and this really p—-s me off,” said one Perth South resident.
“I feel there will be less material recycled with the large bins,” said another. “Long laneways that are predominantly gravel will be a problem.”
These people, and others who stood to speak on the subject, were not swayed by the evidence presented by staff and most of Council indicating that the current “bag tag” system for garbage collection was not a long term option.
“Whether or not you throw out bags every week with a bag tag, you’re still paying part of the cost of our garbage system,” said Treasurer Rebecca Clothier. “The bag tag revenue that we do collect is not sufficient to cover the entire cost. In 2015, 72 percent of the cost of the waste removal was actually added to the tax levy.”
For residential homeowners in Perth South, that’s a $51.57 hit to their taxes on top of any of the $3 garbage bag tags they may be purchasing, Clothier said.
There are three bin sizes in the automated system. A 35-gallon container capable of holding 1-2 bags of trash, which would cost $100 annually, is standard. The two larger options are a 65-gallon container equal to about 2-4 bags of trash (which would come with an annual fee of $185), and a 96-gallon container equal to about 3-6 bags of trash ($270 per year). According to Clothier, the small container would save users currently buying one $3 bag tag per week $56, the medium would save $127, and the large $198.
The annual fee would cover the collection service, which would continue at the current frequency, every two weeks. The bins would remain property of Bluewater Recycling Association, who would provide them at no charge for customers to use, she said.
Perth South Mayor Robert Wilhelm commented that he doesn’t think the municipality has much choice as to whether or not to make the switch to automated collection. “They’re not going to keep manually picking up garbage by hand,” he said. “Down the road, it will be all automated.”
Making the switch this year is key, he said, as a grant that expires in 2017 would permit the municipality to save on acquiring recycling bins. “If we want to be able to exercise an option and save some funds for getting recycle bins for basically no funds, this is the year we have to do it,” he said, adding: “Bluewater has not bought a manual pickup truck in the last five years.”
Coun. Cathy Barker added that fewer than 20 percent of Bluewater Recycling’s customers still use the non-automated pickup system.
One municipality who is further along in the process of switching to the “wheelie bin” system is North Middlesex, which includes such communities as Parkhill and Ailsa Craig.
North Middlesex Clerk Jackie Tiedeman told the Independent that they had held similar public consultation meetings last June and September to hear concerns in advance of the change, which comes into effect May 2. “Right now we’re in the learning process and getting people prepared for the delivery of the bins, which is coming in mid-April,” she said. “We are in contact with other municipalities who have made the switch and we’re finding that very useful. They have been very helpful in letting us know what challenges they have. We’re taking that information and making sure our staff are fully informed in order to help with customers’ enquiries.”
Coun. Melinda Zurbrigg said she thinks this is an issue that still “needs some further investigation”.
“Nobody ever likes change,” she said. “Change takes some getting used to. We’re about 92 or 94 percent rural in population, so some consideration needs to be given to those mile-long driveways and things like that.”
Around a dozen Perth South residents, including those with rural addresses and others residing on James Street South or in Sebringville, took their turn addressing the issue.
“We basically want the bins,” said one resident who was decidedly in the minority at the meeting. “We have to take a number of trips out to the roadway. It would be easier just to have two bins to take out there. We don’t really see a problem with it. We’re hoping it goes through.”
Others critical of the plans, including some messages sent via email and read aloud by the Mayor, suggested that the wheelie bins were an inaccessible option for the elderly living in rural homes with long driveways, or those living on narrow roads with steep ditches. Another said that, since he lives alone and doesn’t produce much trash, the proposed system would wind up costing more money.
“Everyone is able to choose which size bin they get,” Clothier said, addressing the concern. “There’s a fee associated with the size of garbage bin. If you have a large family and a lot more garbage, you’ll have a bigger bin and the cost associated with that is higher. Not everybody is going to have to pay the same price.”
Answering another concern, regarding the question of how a broken bin would get replaced, Clothier said residents would need only to contact Bluewater, “just as you do now when you have a garbage problem, and they would make arrangements for a new bin.”
Tiedeman said that they have received written material from Bluewater Recycling regarding how to set up shelters for the bins at the end of long laneways. “If they’re accustomed to just throwing their blue box, for instance, in the back of their truck or car, they can do the same type of thing, and the bins would be out towards the end of their property in these enclosures,” she said. “It would also be good for wind protection.”
For those dealing with narrow shoulders or steep ditches, “the suggestion is that people may have to start utilizing the middle of their laneway when they’re putting them out for collection,” she said.
Based on what she’s heard and seen, North Middlesex CAO Marsha Paley said she thinks the automated system is feasible for rural municipalities. “We’re one of only two municipalities in Middlesex County who haven’t moved forward with the automated bins,” she said. “Everyone else has already moved to that style. I think it may take some time for everyone to get used to the change, but I’ve certainly heard some positives along with the concerns.”