January 11, 2012

Mayor says Erin overcharged for waste services

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron has renewed a dispute with Wellington County, saying that Erin taxpayers are being overcharged $587,000 annually since the closure of the Hillsburgh Transfer Station.

Maieron said he has been told by county officials that Erin should be happy to be receiving "Cadillac service", since the county now provides both urban and rural pickup of garbage and recyclables.

Many people were unhappy, however, with the closure of the Hillsburgh Transfer Station in May 2010. As a county councillor, Maieron advocated a new facility for Erin-Rockwood to handle bulky garbage, metal, wood, tires, reusable items and household hazardous waste, which would cost far less than a full transfer station.

Instead, Erin residents have to drive to the Belwood Transfer Station for these services. Maieron argues that it is unfair and inefficient for the county to provide other communities in central and northern Wellington with both urban pickup and nearby transfer stations, especially since Erin taxpayers pay a higher share of the costs.

"We have to look at the whole equation," he said in an interview. "We don't have Cadillac service when others have two or three options."

He says the county provides costly duplicate service and is competing with itself by allowing many residents the choice of garbage pick-up, or the option of driving bagged garbage to a transfer station for a lower fee.

"I would suggest that the rest of the County be weaned off the current Rolls Royce level of Solid Waste service and move to this more efficient and less costly 'Cadillac level of service' provided to Erin and Guelph-Eramosa," he said in a recent letter to the warden and members of the Solid Waste Services Committee. Councillors are willing to consider the issue, but no immediate changes are expected.

The core problem for Erin is the province's property tax system. Because Erin property values are relatively high in the current real estate market, residents here must pay a higher share of the taxes required to provide county services.

Wellington County gets about $11.5 million from Erin annually, and since solid waste represents seven per cent of the county budget, Maieron identifies $802,000 as Erin's contribution to the county waste system. It only costs the county $215,000, however, to provide waste pickup in Erin, leaving a difference of $587,000. (This calculation does not include the cost of landfilling the waste, or of the one-day Household Hazardous Waste event.)

"What are Erin residents receiving for this significant additional contribution?" Maieron asks in his letter. "It appears very little. Are we subsidizing everyone else's level of SWS service? Perhaps. For such generosity, Erin residents are provided with the opportunity to drive 40 plus kilometers to the Belwood Transfer Station to dispose of bulky waste etc. ... These services currently exist in almost every other municipality in Wellington County - excepting Guelph-Eramosa.

"I cannot in good faith continue to have my residents over-contribute for services they do not locally receive.

"When we look at average residential cost in the treasurer's report - based on 3,960 Erin households, the cost to provide curbside collection is approximately $54.33 per household per year. What is charged in taxes is $202.51 per household per year, resulting in a difference of $148.18, which is almost 3 times more than what the curbside collection service costs to deliver."

Closing the Hillsburgh station saved the County more than $600,000 in annual operating costs, but Maieron says, "None of these savings were translated in any additional services for Erin residents/taxpayers".

Erin Auto Recyclers does allow Erin residents to avoid the drive to Belwood for some bulky, hazardous and electronic waste. Maieron said efforts by the company to work with the county to expand disposal have met with excessive red tape, and that county staff "have discouraged Erin Auto Recyclers from proceeding any further".