COLUMN: Impromptu decision-making

Andre Carrel break down the City of Terrace’s curbside collection decision

Columnist Andre Carrel (File photo)

At the November 22 regular meeting, council decided to amend the 2022 Financial Plan to allow for the purchase of a new $460,000 auto-loading curbside waste collection truck. Staff was directed to survey the city’s residents “to solicit public input on the resulting changes to the curbside collection of yard waste.” How will the purchase of a third auto-loading refuse, recycling, and organics collection truck affect the collection of yard waste?

Five years ago the city replaced its residential garbage collection with a more responsible service segregating refuse, recycling and organic materials at curbside. To that end the city purchased two auto-loading trucks and distributed appropriate bins. The two old garbage trucks (13 and 16 years old at the time) were retained for the yard waste curbside collection service and as back-up for the two new trucks to ensure service continuity.

The two old trucks had to be kept in active service because the bins and the two auto-loading trucks did not complete the automation of the city’s curbside waste collection service. The city nonetheless classified these two old trucks as spare units. It did not provide for their eventual replacement in any of its 5-year financial plans since 2016. So now, here we are: an “oops, we need another $460,000 for a new truck” decision after the 2022 budget’s public consultation process had expired. Now, after the decision to replace two old trucks with a new auto-loading truck has been made, the public will be consulted on how to make it all work.

When council proceeded to upgrade the community’s residential solid waste collection service, it was fully aware that the measures taken did not address curbside collection of yard waste. Council knew then that a dependable curbside refuse, recycling and organics service could not be assured with just two trucks. Council knew then that the two old trucks had to be kept on active duty, not only for the yard waste service, but also to provide back-up for the two new trucks. To that end it acquired bin-lifting equipment for the old trucks to allow for their use as back-up for the new auto-loading trucks. The November 22 decision to buy a new auto-loading truck, and to leave any thought about the consequences of that decision to some future date, amounts to impromptu decision-making.

The purpose of 5-year financial plans is to encourage councils to think ahead, to reflect, to consult, and to weigh options before making decisions. Council knew five years ago that relying on two old garbage trucks was only a temporary arrangement. Council had five years to solicit public input as to how to assure service reliability for the collection of household waste and what to do about yard waste. This last minute decision to slip an extra $460,000 into the 2022 budget for something that was foreseeable five years ago speaks to a chronic problem with our municipal council: lassitude on the purpose of 5-year financial planning.

A third auto-loading truck will assure service reliability for the refuse, recycling and organics collections service. However, these trucks are not suited for the curbside yard waste collection service as it stands. What input does council expect from the public after having made the decision to spend $460,000 on a new truck? Why would or should a citizen make an effort to participate in this after-the-fact exercise?