By Trevor Busch
Town council is re-examining the merits of moving the town’s solid waste disposal to a roll-out cart system that will encourage separation of compostables and recyclables from garbage.
On Monday, town council will be hosting a drop-in style open house (3-8 p.m.) in the Green Room on the issue for the public to provide their input or learn about the proposed three-cart rollout system for solid waste disposal.
At a special in-camera meeting on Sept. 18, town council voted to direct administration to undertake detailed planning for a cart container system for compostables, recyclables and other solid waste materials in Taber, focusing on the residential component and including public consultation, with the intention of moving the Town of Taber towards being a greener and more environmentally-friendly community in 2015.
“We held a special council meeting to discuss the pros and cons, and have an open discussion with council on whether or not they truly wanted to take a look at this. They decided yes,” said CAO Greg Birch, who went on to note the motion was intentionally unspecific, and does not represent a final decision on the issue. “It is somewhat vague. They want to hedge their bets a little bit. This possibility has been on the table for about two years now. There was a study done by Associated Engineering back in 2012, which was presented to council in 2013. It indicated this kind of cart system would be an improvement for the town. That’s kind of the vision, where we would like to go, and we’d like to talk to people about this and explain to them what we’re thinking in that regard, and what it might look like.”
The proposed implementation of a roll-out cart system for solid waste disposal in Taber was originally tabled in 2013, and sparked opposition in the community from a sizable proportion of citizens.
Under the Bin to Carts Action Plan presented to council at that time, over the course of the next two years, the town would have moved away from its mixed collection system to one based on three standardized carts: a medium sized cart for garbage (240L-3 bag); a large size cart for recyclables (360L-5 bag); and a medium or large size cart for compostables.
Further study of the issue has revealed the town could stand to save significant dollars with regard to solid waste disposal if a new system was to be implemented.
“Gary Scherer (public works manager) has put together some numbers that would seem to suggest if we switch out the system, we’ll actually save people money,” said Birch.
“In other words, the proposed cart system would be a cheaper system to run than our bin system. If we stay on the current track, people will pay money that they don’t have to.”
Birch confirmed a new composting company, Bio-Can, will be leasing town property at the waste transfer station and would take the town’s compostable material, cutting down significantly costs associated with shipping of waste material.
“If we can actually go with a system that separates out that compostable material, and it only has to be trucked to our own waste transfer site, we’ll save the money on having to truck that material. That’s where the big savings comes from.”
For larger materials for disposal by town residents, Birch indicated the town is proposing a voucher system to deal with this kind of waste.
“What the proposal is that we would give out vouchers to take ‘X’ amount of weight, say 250 kilograms per year for free to the landfill site. So in other words, if you have an old bed or a couch or whatever the material might be, instead of dropping it off out in the laneway or putting it into one of our bins, you’d have a free pass to take it to the landfill.”
The almost two-hour special meeting of town council on Sept. 18 was conducted entirely in-camera, barring any members of the public or media from participation.
Under guidelines laid down by Alberta Municipal Affairs, as an elected body municipal councils “should avoid conducting business in-camera” including discussion of difficult topics such as budget deliberations, capital expenditures, tax recoveries, salary ranges or hiring of additional municipal staff, bylaw amendments, subdivision proposals and “any contentious issues” such as sensitive local issues.
“It really had to do with the cost. We were throwing out a lot of cost figures as alternatives for council that we didn’t really want to make public,” said Birch. “It was really the cost elements that kept that in-camera. There are a lot of cost variables in how much we might save people.”
Section 197 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) states that councils and council committees must conduct their meetings in public unless the matter to be discussed is within one of the exceptions to disclosure in Division 2 of Part 1 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act (Sec. 16-29). These limited exceptions for discussion include third party business interests (Sec. 16), third party personal privacy (Sec. 17), individual or public safety (Sec. 18-19), law enforcement (Sec. 20), intergovernmental relations (Sec. 21-24), economic or other interests (Sec. 25-29).
Birch indicated decisions on what agenda items will be discussed in-camera at public meetings is determined through a consultative process between himself and Mayor Henk De Vlieger, while stating the mayor carries the final authority for what is determined to be an in-camera topic of discussion.
The MGA sets out clear requirements for municipal councils to conduct their business openly, except in very limited and specific circumstances. According to Alberta Municipal Affairs, the “powers of a municipal council are balanced by councils’ accountability to the citizens who elect them. It is therefore essential that citizens are allowed to take an active interest in the development and direction of our local governments and express views to their locally elected representatives”.
Mayor Henk De Vlieger was unable to be reached for comment.