North Cowichan will likely soon be going to the public for input on its proposed plan to switch to automated systems for waste collection in the municipality, which could also include the collection of yard waste.
The committee of the whole recommended to council at its meeting on May 12 to have Zinc Communication Strategies lead a two-month public engagement plan in late summer and early fall to inform and involve residents on the municipality’s proposal for the automated curbside collection of solid waste in North Cowichan.
The cost of the consultant for the public-engagement process would be $18,900.
If North Cowichan decides to move forward with the plan after the public consultations, it would involve replacing the four aging manual garbage trucks the municipality uses for the curbside collection of residential garbage and organics with automated ones, which would allow the truck drivers to collect the garbage cans from inside the cab using a fully automated arm that tips into the truck hopper.
The existing manual collection system has resulted in significant cost to North Cowichan from injuries to staff, resulting in 116 lost work days in 2016 and 2017.
North Cowichan’s director of operations Shawn Cator said another of the proposed program’s goals would be to increase resident participation and maximize the diversion of material from the landfill, and it’s believed the new system would help do so.
The estimated cost for the replacement of the existing four manual garbage truck fleet, which is scheduled to be replaced over the next five years, is approximately $1,340,000, while the estimated cost for four automated collection trucks is approximately $1,380,000.
There would also be more additional costs related to providing new collection bins to the approximately 10,000 residential homes the municipality services with its curbside collection program.
The current costs per household for curbside collection is $111 a year and, if council decides to move forward with the public consultations, the municipality will provide two options for its taxpayers to consider.
The cost per household to implement an automated collection system for organics (kitchen waste), garbage and recycling would be an additional $57 per year, or $168, and North Cowichan is also presenting the option of adding yard waste to the automated curbside collection process, with a total additional cost of $71, or $182 per household.
But Mayor Al Siebring, the only member of the committee of the whole who voted against recommending council proceed with the public engagement process, said North Cowichan is already facing a lot of other costs that will be coming up within the next two years.
“There’s a lot of stuff coming down the pike and when the $4.4 million we received from the province (last year to help offset costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic) runs out, there will be expectations that the services that we’re providing with that funding will continue, and that means tax increases,” Siebring said.
“I think we’re heading into a perfect storm financially that will come to a head in 2023 and 2024 in terms of tax increases because at that point, we’ll be facing the full financial load for the RCMP station, and there’s a whole bunch of other stuff coming up as well. I just wonder if we wouldn’t be better off financially to do one more cycle with our manual trucks. I fully acknowledge the point about injuries to staff, but this also has impacts on our taxpayers.”
Count. Kate Marsh said she’s in favour of moving forward with taking the pulse of the community on the issue through the public consultation process.
“I’ve been here since 2011 and people were asking me then when North Cowichan would begin picking up yard waste,” she said.
Coun, Debra Toporowski also said she wants to hear from the community on the issue.
“I think that if we begin picking up yard waste, it would eliminate backyard burning,” she said.
Coun. Christopher Justice said he feels it’s important that people be consulted on the options for automated curbside collection, and then make the decision to support it or not in the full knowledge of the perfect financial storm that council sees coming.
“It would be a false consultation if we present the extra costs for the automated system in isolation from the other potential cost increases that are coming,” he said.