Tuesday, July 15, 2008

High-rise robbery

City's garbage fees will hammer condos By SUE-ANN LEVY, TORONTO SUN 7.13.08

Two weeks ago -- on Canada Day to be exact -- the new socialist garbage fee meter, a.k.a. waste reduction levy, turned on with little fanfare, catching most apartment and condo dwellers completely by surprise.

The city did not provide any in-unit blue boxes or soft-type bags to tenants and condo owners to ease the collection of recyclable materials, as had been promised.

The request for proposals for those 500,000 containers or soft-type bags will be issued next month, with the 12-month rollout expected to start in November, says Rob Orpin, the city's director of collections.

As for the green bin (kitchen catcher), that rollout is also expected to start in November -- provided that processing capacity for the material is found. "We're still working on it," Orpin said late last week.

About the only thing officials did do was put some propaganda on the city's website about the dire need to divert more, along with suggested materials on what residents can put in their blue boxes.

At the Yorkville condo building where I own a unit, that extra levy will amount to some $16,000 per year.

It seems my condo puts out four large bins for collection weekly, which places us in the highest garbage tax grab -- er, pricing -- category. If you divide those costs between 100 residential and seven commercial units, that could mean I'll be on the hook for an extra $149.50 in garbage taxes next year.

As an owner of a 900-square-foot condo, garbage collection will cost me more than what a homeowner will pay for a large garbage bin (at $133 per year) -- even though, I'm told, it is far less costly to collect garbage from a 100-unit condo than from 100 single-family homes.

'AMAZING' JOB That's despite the "amazing" job my building does of recycling. Our superintendent told me that full blue boxes in each garbage room are emptied twice per day and the condo sets out more recycling than regular garbage per week.

So if I ever thought the garbage levy was a tax grab, I'm even more convinced now. How the city can begin charging condo owners and apartment dwellers the levy when they've provided none of the tools to cut back on garbage is beyond me.

Orpin said it's up to condo and apartment dwellers to "maximize" their recycling to reduce their fees.

Perhaps so. But I suppose I already know the story behind the story. Orpin says they have to recover $54 million to pay for the new waste diversion initiatives (the brontosaurus recycling and garbage bins) and some $24 million is to come from the multi-res sector per year (tools or no tools provided).

Still, how they even came up with the fees is a mystery.

Brad Butt, president of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association, feels the city has been totally off-base comparing the multi-res sector to single-family homes because he does not believe the city will ever get the "same level of involvement" from apartments.

"The target shouldn't be one-for-one," he said, noting that most condos and apartments will be assessed at a large or extra-large garbage fee level based on the ambitious recycling goals city staff expect the multi-res sector to achieve.

He has no doubt some of his buildings are going to get whacked. He's already heard from one member with 2,100 units in various buildings who expects to pay $120,000 more a year.
Butt also takes issue with the fact that apartment owners will be charged for a full year before they can even think of applying for a rent increase. Meanwhile, their tenants -- whose diversion rates are supposed to be influenced -- will not be impacted one bit.

METER ADJUSTED Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker, chairman of the city's public works committee, claims the garbage fee meter has been "adjusted" to compensate for the fact that condos and apartments don't have a green bin.

He contends that all condos and apartments "should have been recycling" for 20 years. "There's nothing new here," he said, claiming that the garbage fees for condos and apartments are less than for single-family homes.

"It's amazing when it comes to money what people will do," adds Orpin.

But Butt doesn't buy that argument. It may work in condos where there will be a line item in the budget specifying the Toronto Waste Levy (although I suspect the Socialist Garbage Levy will never go down), but not in apartments, he said.

"Tenants are going to have no clue this cost is there unless owners apply for a rent increase," Butt said. "That's another year down the road."

How is recycling garbage being addressed in your building? Your comments are invited.

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