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Township to weigh costs of retaining transfer station

Perhaps the diminished service has soured residents on the idea. Perhaps they’re resigned to the closure of the facility. Or maybe they didn’t like the weather. Whatever the reason, the low turnout – fewer than a dozen residents – at a public meeting to discuss plans for the waste transfer station in Elmira certainly didn’t inspire Woolwich council to keep pushing ahead to save it.

Having already closed the stations in the three other rural townships, the Region of Waterloo appears bound and determined to do the same in Woolwich. Or, at the very least, to wash its hands of the operating expenses as quickly as possible. The township won a number of reprieves, with the final one expiring at the end of May. That’s not enough time to turn the facility over to a private operator, but does allow for the process to get underway.

Given the bureaucratic process and malaise, it could take years for the facility to begin operating under a different banner. Therein lies the rub, however. Keeping it open would be costly at $110,000 annually, likely necessitating the township to institute a special tax levy – let’s say $30 a year per household – just to keep the current level of service, which is almost useless but would provide some kind of continuity while the paperwork wends its slow and painful course.

No matter what, Woolwich is looking at a great deal of time and money to move ahead. The plethora of empty chairs at Tuesday’s public meeting was not encouraging. Councillors will want more certainty that the facility matters before moving forward.

When the service was still at a functional level, the transfer station was well used, seeing some 25,000 visits a year. That’s something worth keeping, a convenience to residents that also reduces the economic and environmental impacts of having to make the trek to the Erb Street landfill site in Waterloo. The region, however, has no issues with creating that kind of logjam. Nor with inconveniencing residents of all the townships in the name of saving money. The waste disposal side has been bleeding more money annually. Then there’s the other runaway costs, most notably in a particular white elephant that will be a black hole for yet more taxpayer money.

Waste disposal costs keep rising. The department has seen soaring expenditures and falling revenues, the ostensible conditions for cutting the rural transfer stations. Revenues from commercial and industrial sources, for instance, fell between $3 million and $4 million between 2009 and 2014, as waste gets hauled elsewhere. The introduction of the green bin program in 2010 created expenses in that same dollar range, but the department’s budget was reduced by $2 million since then.

With revenues falling, the region has turned increasingly to property tax increases to fund waste management,  with a 70 per cent increase in household taxes related to waste management since 2009 alone.

Those numbers were enough for the region to bail on the service. As those who turned up Tuesday night heard, volumes will have to increase dramatically, along with prices, to make the site viable as a private operation. Just how much is the public willing to bear?

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