Councillors challenge $2.5M savings estimate, worry about impact
Auditor General Brian Bigger presented his report along with Senior Auditor Vasu Balakrishnan, largely focusing on savings that could be realized by reducing pickup to twice a month, rather than once a week.
“Just by tweaking the garbage pickup frequency from 52 weeks to 26 weeks, costs could come down by $2 million,” Balakrishnan said. “The landfill life would be extended significantly … The odours around landfills would be reduced.”
While praising the co-operation they received from staff at the waste management, Balakrishnan said they didn't agree with some of the conclusions.
“They believe the high savings we have estimated may not be realized.”
The audit included several other findings, including a recommendation that the way the cost of fuel increases are handled be changed, as well as the way other costs increases are calculated. The current practice favours contractors, and the change could also save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, Balakrishnan said.
Bigger said reducing the number of bags people are allowed to put at the curb wouldn't save money, since costs are calculated according to the number of stops, not the amount collected. And with the recent increase in the landfill contract of $1.8 million, finding savings is key.
“(Sudbury) has one of the most generous waste collection programs in the province,” he said.
“Sudbury is paying for this level of collection … but citizens are not using all these services. So the question is, when is the best time to discuss service levels.”
With waste management contracts expiring in 2016, he said now is the time to have these sorts of discussion.
But the audit elicited an angry response from Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett, who sits on the solid waste advisory committee. Almost all of the measures in the audit mirrors work that the panel has done, Kett said.
“There is absolutely nothing new in this audit -- everything in this audit is a copy of what we have done,” he said. “We're paying half a million dollars a year for an auditor to tell us what we already know.”
He also questions the costs savings estimate, saying that simply cutting the number of collections to 26 from 52 weeks won't necessarily cut costs in half.
“Can we save $2 million? You don't really know that, Brian. That's a guess.”
In response, Bigger said the audit was part of the workplan known to councillors, and while the ideas aren't new, now is the time to start planning for change.
“The timing of us bringing it in front of council reflects the timing of the audit,” Bigger said. “There's nothing else behind the timing of the audit.”
When asked about the savings estimates, Bigger said it's clear there is a huge opportunity to save money by reducing collection days. Now is the time to prepare a business plan before current agreements expire.
“Whether it's $1 million or $2 million, it's significant amount of money,” he said.
Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau said the three main topics residents complain about are roads, snow plowing and garbage collection. Since the audit went public a few days ago, people have already started calling.
“I guess we'll just throw it in the ditch” are what people are telling him, Barbeau said. “Do we have a Cadillac program? We probably do … but we live in a setting that demands weekly garbage collection.”
And the savings estimate was aimed at getting public and media attention, he said, but the savings estimate is not reliable.
“The $2.5 million is basically a dart at this point. There's no numbers to back that.”
But Bigger said waste collection costs are based on the number of stops that have to be made. Reducing the number of stops by half will reduce costs, he said.
“I believe the right time to be discussing this is now, rather than 2016.”
Mayor Marianne Matichuk said she opposed the 10-year length of the waste collection contract, arguing no contract should exceed five years. And if service levels are going to change, she said extensive consultation with the public is key.
“It's imperative that we get the public involved before we change policy.”