Is it time to trash the Alternative Approval Process?

Is it time to trash the Alternative Approval Process?

I wrote an article in this paper several weeks ago which invited people to attend an open house at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena, where the CVRD staff would be unveiling a plan to bring the curbside collection of recycling and garbage services under CVRD management, which would result in a lower cost for customers. Yes, that is correct, lower cost to customers.

I don’t want to get into the habit of repeating what was written in that article or everything that was said at the open house, yet recently opponents of the plan have launched a campaign of misinformation and half truths which could derail this elected official’s attempt to reduce the cost and improve the quality of a service that local government currently provides to its citizens through a profit driven collection contractor.

The last time the CVRD put collection services out to tender, the two bids received by the private garbage haulers were so high that the CVRD chose to reject the tenders and enter into a series of short term renewals with the private garbage hauler under contract at the time. This practice was becoming increasingly expensive and came to a head when in 2011, customers were forced to swallow a 32 per cent increase in curbside collection fees. Many of you were as shocked and disgusted as I was when you received your bill, and several residents took the time to tell me so directly. Electoral area directors responded by challenging CVRD staff to explore ideas and come up with solutions that would reduce costs and provide our curbside customers with some stable pricing certainty going forward.

The solution proposed is based on new technology that has proven to be very successful, cost effective, and very easy to use — according to customers across B.C. -— and as close by as Port Alberni. Curbside customers there reported something like a 98 per cent approval of the new collection system and have said the new totes are very handy and easy to maneuver.

The CVRD will provide each household the wheeled totes (at no cost to the homeowner) which are designed to be grabbed and emptied by the robotic arm attached to the side of the new split packer trucks. This new system has already proven to dramatically reduce worker injuries in the areas of B.C. that have progressed to using this new and efficient technology. Again, this new system is projected to cost customers in Area F and Area I, $11 less per year than the outdated manual system in place today provided by the private contractor.

Here is the part that even I have some difficulty with. The CVRD will have to purchase the new split packer garbage trucks and will get the financing at extremely competitive rates from the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA). Local government must receive permission from the electorate to finance the approximate $1.775 million  to purchase the trucks. The province of B.C. says there are only two ways to get that permission from the electorate. Referendum is the preferred method — yet would cost over $50,000 to hold a region wide vote — and that would virtually eliminate the $11 cost savings in the first year of the program. The second method is one that I don’t much like and is called the Alternative Approval Process or AAP and only costs about $3,000 to conduct region wide. Many of you will have seen the official notice in local papers like this one.

If 10 per cent of the electorate choose to sign the Elector Response Form and turn it in to the CVRD, the CVRD directors would have to decide to scrap this innovative initiative entirely, or decide to put the question to the electorate in a region wide referendum, which I stated above, is considerably more expensive. If opponents don’t convince enough of you and your neighbours to sign the forms and reach the 10 per cent threshold by the closing date for the AAP (4:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26), the CVRD board can then choose to approve the Automated Curbside Collection program, and the service will likely be operating by this summer.

I will tell you why I don’t like the AAP. It just isn’t very democratic! I can’t encourage people who support this attempt to modernize our curbside collection, to come out to vote in favour. Only those who are opposed get their say. I have told the residents I serve that I won’t use the AAP to get their “permission,” unless circumstances are such that there is no other reasonable choice. As in this case, this AAP is across all nine electoral areas, and a majority of CVRD directors chose this method in part because a full blown referendum is so much more costly.

Mid way through the AAP process, I have begun to see some opposition develop to the CVRD’s plan to modernize and automate the curbside collection system. I feel that if the CVRD can provide each household with new garbage totes, come to my home with a new robotic split packer truck driven by a unionized staff person being paid a living wage, versus the old-style garbage trucks often using lower paid and injury plagued employees of a private hauler, and the CVRD can provide that cheaper than we currently pay, then why not. I have heard people argue that the public sector should not compete with the private sector. The private sector is focused on profit. The CVRD is here to provide a service. Plain and simple.

What’s happening now isn’t rigorous debate about public versus private curbside collection. It seems more about criticizing the AAP. While I agree there should be better ways to seek public approval, if this Automated Curbside Collection program were to be defeated because people disagree with the provincially approved AAP method, the real losers are those of us who write a cheque  for our garbage and recycling collection each year.

If you like the idea of the Automated Curbside Collection program and the stable cost it will bring, but you really don’t like the AAP method of consulting the public, please call me and we’ll talk. Perhaps it’s time to start a movement to trash the APP.