Regina council has reversed course and shrunk an affordability program that would have applied to all low-income residents on their curbside waste services.
It’s all the result of a decision to move waste services in the city to a user-pay model.
Currently, the fee for recycling (collected in blue carts) shows up on utility bills while regular garbage collection (gathered in brown carts) falls under property taxes. Yard waste and food waste will be collected in green bins as part of a new service that will begin next fall.
But starting on Jan. 1, 2024, fees associated with recycling, yard waste and garbage collection will be displayed on a resident’s utility bill.
As part of that program, the average household will see a $39 increase to their utility bills.
When council approved the changes to to waste services earlier this year, it also voted to create a rebate program that would apply to all low-income residents in the city.
The rebate program was planned as being income-based, using the Statistics Canada before-tax low income cut-off from the most recent year in order to determine who qualifies for the $54.75 per year rebate.
The original program that was approved would’ve cost $500,000 per year, financed by an additional $7 annual charge for utility customers.
But the broad application of the program went far beyond was originally recommended by city administration, which called for the rebate to only apply to low-income households where at least one member is a senior citizen or a person living with a disability.
That caused Coun. Bob Hawkins to press council to revisit the topic on Wednesday and vote to follow the original recommendation.
The limited rebate program would only cost $100,000 and require no additional charges.
Hawkins urged council to make sure they don’t try to do too much with the limited resources available to them.
“It’s simply the case that we can’t afford on our budget, with our municipality’s responsibilities and with the straights that our residents find themselves in that we mentioned earlier, we simply can’t afford to adopt the whole burden of social services that belongs to the provinces,” Hawkins said.
The topic was contentious and only passed six to five, with a number of councillors taking issue with restricting the affordability program.
“So for $0.58 a month, we can introduce a program that will be beneficial to the poorest residents, thousands of residents in our community,” said Coun. Andrew Stevens.
The recommendation was made to better align with existing affordability programs offered for utility services, according to a report presented by city administration.