City budget presentation well worth the “waste”

City Director of Finance Andre Buss presents highlights of the 2017 budget.
City Director of Finance Andre Buss presents highlights of the 2017 budget.

A public open house Tuesday night to present the city’s 2017 budget and five-year financial plan only drew 17 attendees, other than senior city staff, mayor and council, but a lively discussion kept the meeting running until well after its scheduled end at 7 p.m.

The bulk of the discussion and questions about the roughly-$29-million budget centred around waste management issues, as newly introduced programs have left some residents confused as to the new protocols.

A new solid waste program implemented one year ago, in April 2016, has proven to be a resounding success, according to acting CAO and Public Works director Chris Barlow, who said recycling volumes have jumped over 130 per cent in the past year alone, with over 50 per cent of residential waste now being diverted from the landfill.

“In fact, 12 per cent, or 200 tonnes, less garbage was collected in the first year of the program, as compared to the previous year,” Barlow said.

Director of Financial Services Andre Buss, who presented the budget, added this translated into significant fiscal savings.

“For the year ending 2016, the city expects that Castlegar will have saved approximately $36,000 in the recycling program and $52,000 in the garbage pickup program and has placed these amounts in reserve.”

Where confusion arose was chiefly over the city’s yard waste program (residents can bring grass clippings, leaves, etc. to a drop-off area behind the Complex), a program which has arguably become a victim of its own success.

“In  2016  the  operating  cost  of  the  new  Yard  Waste  Program  was  approximately  $113,000.  The cost of this successful program has exceeded the ability of the Parks Operation and Maintenance budget to absorb the cost,” Buss explained. “For  2017,  as  an  interim  measure,  the  budget  proposes  to  move  the  Yard Waste  Program  to  the  Environment  Health  section  of  the  budget,  with garbage and recycling, and use accumulated solid waste reserves to  pay  the  cost  of  the  program.”

There was a lengthy discussion as to ways the city could recoup their costs, whether they should charge service fees for people from outside town for using the services, whether they should consider collecting all organics (including kitchen scraps) rather than just yard waste, whether commercial landscaping/tree-trimming companies should be charged a service fee, and so forth.

Ultimately, both Buss and Barlow, as well as several city councillors, assured attendees that the city would hold a public consultation to discuss the various ideas, priorities and preferences of residents as council crafts a new program to address current concerns.

There seemed to be no contention or concern about the much larger-ticket line items such as the $4,822,000North Columbia Avenue project or the $1,432,000 new fire engine ladder truck, the latter of which is slated to be delivered next Thursday.

Barlow said the low turn-out at the meeting is likely a positive sign.

“It’s potentially an indicator that the community is happy with the balance that was struck with this budget,” he said. “And that they support the priorities and objectives laid out in the five-year financial plan.”

The final proposed five-year-financial plan will be brought forward to council for potential third reading and adoption at its next regular meeting on April 18, while a date has not yet been set for adoption of the budget.

The entire draft budget can be viewed online at http://www.castlegar.ca/notice.php?id=511