Both short and long-term solutions to the ongoing waste-collection problems being experienced by residents county-wide were considered at the County of Simcoe council table on Tuesday morning.
Councillors had three short-term solution options to consider to help alleviate the issue: to maintain the status quo, to move recycling collection to be regularly picked up every other week, or to alternate every-other-week collection for recycling and garbage on offsetting weeks.
Long-term, the county request for proposals (RFP) for the new waste collection contracts were also under consideration, which would see the process fast- tracked and modified to allow interested companies to bid on different parts of the county, or the county as a whole.
“We believe this is the best of a bunch of not-very-attractive alternatives,” said Debbie Korolnek, general manager of engineering, planning and environment with the County of Simcoe.
“The bottom line is, we are joined at the hip with Waste Connections Canada for the next 18 months or so until we can get a longer term contract in place. We are working diligently to do that as quickly as possible.”
Korolnek said the company does not anticipate being back up to full staffing in the foreseeable future.
“They’re telling us that their labour issues are not going to get better within at least the next six months,” she told council. “They asked two things of us: to end the contract early and they wanted us to somehow reduce the number of collections so they can do it with the forces they do have.”
According to the RFP schedule, the RFP for new waste collection contracts will be released Nov. 15, closing Dec. 31. A report to council is anticipated in February 2020. Once the contract is awarded in approximately March of 2020, the new contract would commence by Nov. 1, 2021.
“In the long-term, we are fast-tracking the RFP for collections,” she said. “The successful bidder does have to (have time to) get fleet in place, and that takes about 18 months.”
Korolnek outlined why the short-term first option – maintaining status quo – was the preferred direction by staff.
“We don’t want to reduce service for our residents,” she said. “This contact has worked pretty well for six and a half years. Waste Connection is obligated to provide that service.”
Korolnek said the biggest reason for sticking with the status quo was the Ontario government deciding to shift responsibility for the Blue Box program to producers.
“Probably the biggest reason for staying with the status quo is council is aware... the facilitator that was working with the province on that said whatever service we provide at the point where it transitions is the service that will be provided by producers,” said Korolnek. “In effect, if we reduce service now we may be painting ourselves into a corner.”
Bradford Deputy Mayor James Leduc said he didn’t think any of the presented options were enough to solve the problem.
“In my mind, I think we need to change direction altogether,” he said. “There are two major issues with this contractor: they’re not paying enough on the wage end of it. It’s $21 an hour for a DZ driver. It’s not going to work. They (Waste Connections) made a fortune on this contract and they don’t give a rat’s behind on what they’re doing here.
“The other issue is the contract is just too large for one supplier. The City of Toronto has three different suppliers and contracts. We’ve also talked about the county getting involved and buying our own vehicles. This is costing us a fortune and we’re not getting service anyway... and they don’t care,” he added.
Korolnek said that, according to their contract, Waste Connections is required to pay for all Miller Waste trucks that are doing additional runs to pick up what is left behind by their operators, so it doesn’t come at an additional cost to taxpayers.
“We haven’t had that discussion yet with them, but I assure you that discussion isn’t going to be pretty,” said Korolnek. “So, they are not making a fortune right now. They are, in fact, losing a whole bunch of money.”
Korolnek also reminded council that the labour shortage for DZ-level drivers still exists, so whether the county brings in multiple contractors, or takes on the work themselves, those problems will still be present.
“We did speak with Waste Connections about increasing wages, but they have union issues where if they increase wages in Simcoe County they are obligated to do so all over, so that isn’t a simple solution either,” she said.
Some councillors saw the problem as an opportunity to urge residents to divert more of their waste from landfills through the second and third options.
“If we can increase our diversion rates, we’re also saving even more money that isn’t being outlined,” said Tiny Township Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma.
“Our goal here is to reduce waste,” said Ramara Township Mayor Basil Clarke. “We’ve been at a standstill for some time. I don’t see (biweekly pickup) as a reduction of service. Nobody likes their hand being forced, and I understand that. But status quo is not working.”
“The contractor could walk away, and where are we then? Literally holding the bag,” he added.
Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin said she was opposed to switching to biweekly pick up.
“I’m in favour of pro-actively, at some point, doing something that can help with diversion, but I think this sends the wrong message. If you think your phone is ringing now, just wait. I think the perception will be that we’re caving to the contractor as opposed to making them live up to their contract,” she said, adding that switching to biweekly pick up wouldn’t guarantee that the routes would be more effectively covered.
“I think we should hang in there with the weekly (pick up) and the status quo,” she said.
According to the staff report, Waste Connections requires, on average, 63 trucks to be routed per day and to do so requires a full driver contingent of 78.
As of Oct. 3, the company has only 62 drivers and, when vacation and sick days are considered, they do not have enough to fully service all the collection routes.
The county has brought in all available outside collection contractors to help alleviate the issue, but even when fully routing the additional outside trucks, Waste Connections is still running with three to four unmanned routes on average per collection day. Per week, approximately six per cent or 9,000 stops are being missed.
Council committee of the whole voted to recommend to maintain the status quo. The decision will need to be ratified at the next regular council meeting on Nov. 12.
To keep apprised of any delays or changes in waste collection in the County of Simcoe, the Simcoe County Collects app is available for free through Google Play and the App Store.
The information is also posted regularly to the County of Simcoe website and social media.
For regular updates on delays in trash and recycling pick up, click here.