By Jensen, Randy on August 22, 2020.
Some local condominium owners say they are being asked to pay too much for recycling by the City of Lethbridge.
Brian Freeze is a resident of Sierras and sits on an ad hoc committee representing about 1,000 condo owners among the city’s largest multi-family residences.
He says there are two problems with the way the City intends to bring in recycling early next year for his condo building and other larger multi-family dwellings in Lethbridge.
First, it’s a matter of logistics, he says.
“Most of these larger condominiums have been recycling, actually proactively, for a number of years now,” he explains. “For example, Madison Heights started in 2009. And most of them have been operating some sort of recycling program for at least five years either using volunteers or private contractors.
“These (dwellings) were designed with underground parking, and mostly what they have is large garbage bins that fall directly from chutes. Residents just drop in their halls all their garbage into these chutes. The large bins are dragged outside with tractors, and then they are picked up from commercial waste managers. So all these units have a design around garbage, but they don’t have a design around recycling.”
Because of the complexities of dealing with multi-family garbage disposal, the City of Lethbridge allowed condominiums to be classified as commercial collection and follow similar procedures to what businesses have to use to dispose of their garbage, says Freeze. This has allowed larger condos like his to keep their costs lower, and to have an efficient service. Freeze does not understand why the City cannot do the same for recycling and exempt large condominiums who want to contract out their own recycling collection.
City of Lethbridge general manager of Waste and Recycling Services Joel Sanchez says condominiums are not businesses, and have always been classified as residential, despite being allowed an exception for garbage collection by previous council decisions.
Sanchez says the whole point of allowing no residential dwelling in the city to opt out of the City’s recycling program is to ensure the cost stays low for everybody.
“When council approved the program here for single-family there was no opt-out; even if you didn’t want to do the recycling,” he says. “We actually have about 50 households in the city that declined a cart. They still pay the $7 per month, but they don’t want the cart. The reason why council approved that at the time was to ensure participation. In order to keep the costs low, the only way to do this is have everybody be part of the process. The other thing council is looking at is the waste diversion strategy -we have targets for residential, and multi-family is residential as well.”
Which brings up the second area of concern for Freeze: the cost.
“Because all these units have been doing recycling for a number of years, the cost is minimal compared to what the City is proposing,” he says, “The City is proposing a cost of $7 per unit per month. The average cost in the current condominiums ranges from 50 cents per unit per month to about $2.50, significantly lower than what the City is proposing.”
Freeze says this is too big of an increase, particularly for seniors. He says this also puts condo boards in a difficult position. The City’s practice has been to deliver one utility bill accounting for the costs of all units. This bill is then divvied up among residents on a proportional basis and collected back in condo fees. The condo boards, under this proposed recycling scenario, says Freeze, would have to drastically increase condominium owners’ collection fees to meet the $7 per unit per month.
“This (system we have) is working well for us now,” he says. “For us to go to our residents and say recycling is costing you 52 cents per unit per month, now we want to charge you $7 – that’s a problem for the seniors here, many of them who are on fixed incomes. It’s difficult for us who are on the boards of these condominiums to explain that to our residents.”
Sanchez acknowledges typically larger condo facilities in the city are sent a centralized bill for all utility costs and fees, but it is something which generally the complexes themselves prefer. In this case though, says Sanchez, the condo boards can opt for the City to do direct billing on their residents in individual units if they don’t want to raise recycling fees themselves. He says the City is also willing to work with every facility to come up with a recycling plan which works for them.
“We are giving each household a small container,” Sanchez explains. “It’s a seven-gallon container, and each household will have that. Then they can put their recyclables there, and they need to bring it down to a central location, which is the same thing many of them do now. They have a central location either inside their building or outside where they bring it.
“We work with them and try to find the best solution where it’s going to be easy for them to use the container or metal bin, or whatever they decide to do. And secondly, we will also work with them in terms of where we place it.”
Sanchez says he already knows the system works logistically for multi-family dwellings. When these changes were first brought in, the City divided multi-family dwelling into two groups: those under 45 units and those over 45 units. He says 95 per cent of multi-family dwellings under 45 units have already implemented the blue bin system without any problems. And despite giving the multi-family dwellings with over 45 units until January of next year to implement the new charges and system, Sanchez says of the approximately two dozen buildings in Lethbridge in that category 14 of them have already asked for the system to be implemented because they are ready to go now.
As for cost, Sanchez says that $7 per unit per month is the actual cost of doing recycling in the city for a multi-family dwelling. In other jurisdictions, he explains, communities sometimes either subsidize their large condos from recycling fees brought in on single-family collections or take half those costs from property taxes instead of fees, but the actual cost is quite similar to Lethbridge when fully tallied. It would be a decision for council to make, he says, but the cost to pay for the service must come from somewhere else in residential taxes if not from the users in the condos themselves.
Freeze’s condo committee will have a chance to make its case to city council on Sept. 14. He hopes one of two things might happen.
“We prefer they amend the bylaw to deem us commercial (for recycling), and exempt us from residential,” he says. “Or we will work with the City (on implementation), but they have to get their cost more in line with what the costs are now for us.”
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