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Tipping points reached over tipping fees

RDBN directors went through old garbage decisions

Garbage fees put the most recent Regional District of Bulkley–Nechako (RDBN) meeting into the dumpster, for one segment of the agenda.

In what was otherwise a pleasant and collegial meeting prior to the election, passions flew like a bear in a trash heap over how the public should pay for solid waste management. Chair Gerry Thiessen, in his last meeting in that position, had to intervene twice during the discussion. One time he had to scold the room for disrespectful sounds during conversation and in a second instance had to call an unscheduled recess to restore order.

It must be noted that no elected officials engaged in personal attacks or argumentative cross-fire, such as we often see in houses of Parliament, but there was clearly tension over the idea of taxpayers on the whole paying for solid waste management versus paying a “tipping fee” at the landfill site when you drop off your garbage.

A report was presented at the meeting by Alex Eriksen, the RDBN’s director of Environmental Services, with input by solid waste management consultants hired to help, and the RDBN’s Waste Management Committee. It was the next in a series of reports, with ongoing quarterly reports expected into the future.

Some of the directors at the table complained that a formal call for questions had been made, those questions were submitted, but the answers were not apparent in the report.

“When it comes to this user-pay system, I wasn’t part of agreeing to that, as a model we were going to move to, and I am accountable to the taxpayers that I represent,” said Houston’s rural representative Chris Newell. “So I need to know some of those numbers, and I need those questions answered that don’t appear to be answered yet. I’m not comfortable moving forward with this until I know that. I thought that was why we had to send them in as emails, so those would be answered in the next meeting.”

The representative for Francois-Ootsa Lake, Clint Lambert, concurred, saying “We asked you a bunch of questions and we didn’t get the answers. You made assumptions to get your answers. You could have made assumptions to get the numbers we were asking for. You had a month to do it. We don’t have it. We have what you guys want to do, but we don’t have the numbers about where we’re coming from or where we’re going.” Lambert added that he, too, was not party to any votes in favour of the tipping fee model.

After half an hour of dialogue over what the cost projections might be, and how implementation might look, the rural representative of Smithers, Mark Fisher, the chair of the Waste Management Committee, heatedly interjected on behalf of the staff report. He stressed that all the questions were answered in the report, just not necessarily explicitly, and there was plenty of time going forward to get any clarity a director felt was lacking.

Furthermore, he reminded all in the room that they have had their entire previous mandates to bring up any wish they might have to revisit the previously approved Solid Waste Management Plan.

“Therefore, you are on board. You did decide,” he said. “If you did not rescind that motion, you chose to be on the path that was chosen before you. That’s the way it works. To say ‘correct me if I’m wrong…’ you are wrong. It is there. The cost of the system is going to be there whether it is taxation or user fees. Let’s put it on the users. There are large portions of the population that won’t be impacted by this at all, if they can divert. We are not going to accomplish anything if we fight and put up roadblocks over something that was decided not four years ago but 20 years ago as well. Let’s get with the times or rescind the motion. That is an option.”

The board then voted to approve the continuation of the user-fee (a charge at the garbage dump) system as presented in the report, although it was not unanimous. How much the user fees might be, how they might be paid, and when a payment plan might start are not yet determined. It is still possible, with a majority vote of RDBN directors, to overturn the current plan and revert back to paying for solid waste costs out of general tax revenues.