CSWM senior manager Andrew McGifford outlines waste management plans for board members at the Nov. 29 meeting in Campbell River. Photo by Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Comox Strathcona Waste Management falls back on tax hikes

Two regions could expect total revenue increase of about $2 million over last year

Comox Strathcona Waste Management (CSWM) will be requiring additional tax revenue to help cover costs for long-term projects it has planned.

The CSWM board represents the Comox Valley and Strathcona regional districts and includes representatives from both bodies.

RELATED STORY: Plenty more waste in Comox Valley and Campbell River landfills could be diverted – audit

On Thursday, the CSWM board held its first meeting with new directors since the October local government elections, meaning there were faces old and new around the table at Campbell River’s Maritime Heritage Centre.

Staff spent the first part of the meeting offering the board an overview of how the organization works as well as its plans. These include major infrastructure projects: a new engineered landfill in the Comox Valley with a leachate facility to control runoff water, with incurred debt estimated currently at $15.6 million; the closure of the old Comox Valley landfill, estimated at $9.24 million; and the closure of the Campbell River landfill, estimated at $11.83 million, slated for 2023/24. The total incurred debt of thesecomes out to almost $37 million.

“A lot of projects are in the next 10 years,” said Andrew McGifford, CSWM senior manager. “It is a financial drain on capital reserves.”

All of this comes with a cost, and later in the meeting the new board got a look at the preliminary financial plan. The next phase, a proposed financial plan, is scheduled for a meeting on Jan. 10. Subsequent versions are set for February and March meetings.

Already, there is dissent over planned tax hikes estimated at as much as $6 million for the coming for the entire service area, representing an increase of $2 million over the last year. Members from Strathcona said they had been told waste service costs would be covered by tipping fees but over the last few years are now hearing the CSWM will need money from tax requisition because fees are coming up short.

Jim Abram, Quadra Island’s representative, said he would vote against the financial plan in its current form.

“It has gone up pretty much exponentially every year,” he said. “I’m totally opposed to the taxation portion of this service continually going up and the tipping fee not following in line.”

He described the portion of tax bills for residents for solid waste management as “outrageous.”

This complaint is not new and was brought up by directors at an SRD meeting in July, some of whom suggested the Strathcona board consider splitting from Comox over waste service.

McGifford addressed the issue of tipping fees, saying that at about 60 per cent fees do provide the largest portion of revenue. He indicated there are planned tipping fee increases in 2020 and 2022.

He also said the amount of the tax requisition was based on looking at the capital needs and debt servicing over a 30-year period.

“There has been some drops in the debt we anticipate, but there’s still, over a long period of time, significant projects,” he said.

RELATED STORY: Strathcona Regional District considers split from Comox Valley over waste service

Edwin Grieve, the Comox board’s representative for Area C – Puntledge and Black Creek, highlighted a challenge when it comes to relying on tipping fees – with the efforts to increase the rate of material being diverted from landfills to reduce demand on space, the result is a drop in tonnage over the scales and a reduction in the revenue coming in from fees.

“Herein lies the conundrum of solid waste management,” he said.

Grieve added that a CSWM garbage composition report found that even without considering organic material, half of the material going into landfill there is either a market for or could be composted.

Brenda Leigh, the Strathcona representative for Area D south of Campbell River, suggested an alternative to the tax requisition, saying there is excess money from areas of the financial plan that have come in under budget and could be applied to the debt load and reduce the necessity to increase taxes.

“I’d like to see this in the next rendition of the budget,” she said. “We can pay down that debt that we’re holding. I think it’s the most responsible thing to do for our taxpayers.”

Leigh also suggested rethinking the process of trucking organic waste material that is largely water all over the regions and using excessive fossil fuels. She said understands having a more customized program for the larger municipal partners in the regional districts but did not think having the same large-scale program through the regions was feasible, especially for smaller communities.

“We’re too small,” she said. “We don’t have to move everyone’s organics.”

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