At Executive Committee this week we had our annual discussion on free weeks at the landfill. With previous councils, free landfill week was in the spring, to fit with most people's time for cleaning up the yard. With this council, we've had four, and last year, five, weeks when people could drop off waste free of charge, to encourage a cleaner city.
Every free week results in $10,000 of lost revenue to the city. These weeks are also subject to abuse, as residents from outside the city take advantage of the opportunity to drop their waste off without charge. And when you take advantage of these weeks, particularly on the Friday and Saturday, the line-ups are long.
Every year for the last three years I have asked if there is a different way of providing Prince Albert residents with the same benefit, while not providing the same benefit to non-taxpayers. I have suggested that each resident get a tag, or tags, if we're going to offer this benefit for multiple weeks. That way, you could use your free week when it met your needs, line-ups would be shorter, and we would remove the opportunity for abuse from non-residents. Tags could be included with water bills - if we can include free advertising for a Raiders fund-raising effort, as was done with the last water bill, surely we could include a tag, or perhaps a punch card, to allow free access to the dump.
And every year, the response from some members of council is predictable - we don't need to change, this would be too complicated. At least this year they have recognized the abuse of the current system from non-residents, so a solution has been suggested. This year, your driver's licence will be checked, to ensure that you are a Prince Albert resident. That will help with the line-ups, I'm sure.
I'm not sure why there is so much resistance to trying to improve the system, while still encouraging residents to clean up their yards. And if the real problem that we're trying to solve is the unrelenting garbage that is one of the least attractive characteristics of this city, more free landfill weeks isn't doing anything to change that. I'm at the point now of thinking that, because of the costs in these tight budget times, we should be reducing the free services that we offer to residents, not continuing to offer them just because they're popular. Sometimes our responsibility is to do the right thing, not the popular thing.
This week is budget week. I'm currently forging my way through two extremely thick budget binders that were delivered on Friday afternoon. The public meeting on the budget is Wednesday - apparently the budget is not yet available on the city web-site, which means that expecting the public to be able to comment in any kind of depth on the budget is unfair, to say the least. Then council will have its budget meetings on Friday and Saturday, although last year's budget meeting lasted only half a day - a ridiculously short time to devote to the most important action that council takes all year. As I say every year at this time, I'm not sure why the rush - it's not like prizes are given for finishing first.
"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future." - John F. Kennedy