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Follow the money in debate over transfer stations

When it comes to spending, the region has no money FOR waste, but apparently plenty TO waste.

In the business world, if you charge somebody for a service and don’t deliver, simply pocketing the money, it’s fraud.

In the government world, if you charge somebody for a service and don’t deliver, simply pocketing the money, it’s, well, standard operating procedure.

Take, for example, the region’s decision to close four waste transfer stations in the townships. Service has already been scaled back, dramatically in the case of Woolwich. Next March, the service will be gone completely unless regional council opts to do what residents want. The move, officials argue, will save some $400,000, using the numbers from previous service levels. None of that money will be returned to taxpayers who previously enjoyed a convenient and useful service for the money they paid. Instead, the funds have dropped into the black hole of government finances.

This is more than an argument about government profligacy – though that’s certainly at play here. With the township looking for ways to keep the Howard Avenue transfer station open, the funds still going to the region despite a pending removal of what that money buys could be applied to a made-in-Woolwich solution. Instead, taxpayers will have to in essence pay twice if, for instance, a special levy is agreed upon.

There is, of course, the possibility of a purely private business model that could keep the facility open.

At this week’s public meeting to discuss the situation, Plein Disposal owner Adolph Plein suggested his company would like to be involved in keeping the resource available to residents. Privately run transfer stations aren’t uncommon, especially in dealing with waste from commercial and industrial users.

Some kind of commercial venture was on the mind of Coun. Mark Bauman, who seemed unwilling to put any faith in the region doing what’s right.

“My confidence in the region solving this problem is very minimal,” he said. “I’ve basically given up on the region. I’d like to see a smooth transition to some kind of private operator.”

For its part, the region hasn’t given much thought to what happens to rural residents should the closures go ahead as planned. Nor to what happens to the facilities afterwards.

Ideally, regional council would reconsider its decision. Not likely, given that the rural contingent is heavily outnumbered around the table. There’s a possibility a change of heart could follow October’s municipal election, especially if those deserving of being turfed – see the LRT vote – are shown the door.

As this week’s presentation by director of waste management Jon Arsenault showed, the region is facing some serious financial issues with the collecting of trash and recyclables. Some of the mess is self-inflicted, including the poorly implemented green bin program, which eats up some $4 million of the Arsenault’s $22-million budget.

As Mayor Todd Cowan pointed out, the green bin program is scarcely used in Woolwich, unlike the transfer station, yet the one continues.

Ironically, regional council this week voted to hire a consultant to review its program, ostensibly to look at where cuts and savings could be made. If the transfer station decision is any indication, useful services might be on the block while wasteful and unnecessary projects will continue to burn through your tax dollars.

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