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City staff suggests more increases to water, trash bills

Council committee also gets recommendation for extra fee for hauling large items.
Nov. 4, 2016
By Betsy Powell and David Rider

Toronto city staff is recommending residents pay 5 per cent more for the water flowing in and out of their taps, sinks and toilets and 3.9 per cent, on average, for garbage pickup in 2017.

The suggested rate increases were released Friday to the city’s budget committee as part of the so-called “rate-supported” budget - the services the city provides which are funded primarily by the user and not by property taxes.

If approved by council, it continues a trend of city hall balancing the budget through higher user fees while keeping property taxes low compared to other Ontario municipalities.

Staff would also like council to approve an annual $8-per-household charge to cover the cost of hauling away large items, such as old mattresses or sofas, whether or not the collection service is used.

Under the proposals, single-family garbage-collection fees would increase by $12.73 for small bins; $15.45 for medium; $20.98 for large; and $24.34 for extra-large.

The proposed water-rate increase would bump the average residential bill from $914 a year in 2016 to $960 in 2017. Rates increased by eight per cent last year, and the annual increases are forecast to remain at 5 per cent the next year, then decline to 3.6 per cent in 2019 and dip to 3 per cent through to 2026. (In the event that all of those increases occur, that would leave the average bill at well over $1,200.)

“You (Toronto residents) have been paying a lot for some time now and there is finally some relief in sight,” said budget committee chair Gary Crawford.

Each year, staff from Toronto Water, Solid Waste Management Services and the Toronto Parking Authority put forward their recommendations to the city’s budget committee, which invites public input and then decides whether or not to support staff-backed proposals.

Council has final say on next year’s rate-supported budget at its December meeting, in time to take effect Jan. 1. In February, council will decide on the operating budget, which grew to $11.7 billion this year and funds big-ticket city services such as police, fire and public transit.

That is also the time when council will vote on the 2017 residential property tax rate increase, which Mayor John Tory has promised will remain at or below the rate of inflation.

At Friday’s meeting, councillors asked staff about next year’s spending and revenue-raising plans. Several were skeptical about the proposal to boost the cost of a small garbage bin, from $17.76 to $30.49, a higher percentage increase than what’s proposed for bigger bins.

Councillor Gord Perks, who doesn’t sit on the budget committee, also questioned a proposed $25 fee for residents who want to change their garbage bins, something he said might discourage some from downsizing to smaller containers.

“We want people to go to small bins - it saves us from having to landfill and it protects the environment. Why would you create a disincentive?” Perks said.

“We should be applauding people who create less waste, not giving them a bigger per-cent increase than those who waste more.”

Staff say that fee, along with the recommended $8 annual charge for oversized items, are cost-recovery measures.

Crawford, a member of the Tory’s executive committee, said while he was open to looking at the $25 bin swap fee, he thought the proposed increase for smaller garbage bins seems reasonable.

“It works out to 25 cents a week. From my perspective the incentive to actually get down to a smaller bin, the prices are still lower and the incentive is still there.”

Councillor Jon Burnside said the proposed $8 annual fee for bulk-item removal struck him as a “pretty good deal,” given that junk take-away services typically charge between $60 and $100 to haul away a piece of furniture.