There are two things that I am thankful for this week. The first is no longer having to listen the inane diatribe about multi-dwelling recycling. And secondly for the support the majority of council gave Cosmo. I admit to having a soft spot for Cosmo, perhaps because I have had first-hand knowledge of the work this organization does for Saskatoon families with intellectually challenged kin. We all pray we won’t need these services, but it is comforting to know they are there should the need arise.
By all accounts the verbosity at council’s last meeting was more of a gong show than a debate. Nonetheless, the 7-4 decision put an end to a contentious issue and honoured the verbal commitment given to Cosmo last year. But there is a dark cloud over this decision, resulting from many convoluted comments made that need to be dissipated.
It was earlier implied that taxpayers would be subsidizing Cosmo if it were awarded the contract, along with a possible mill-rate increase. Nothing could be further from the truth. The city will be paying Cosmo, a non-profit corporation providing services to intellectually challenged people, exactly the same amount as it pays Loraas, a business contracted to collect and recycle products from single-dwelling homes.
The difference is the city bills single-dwelling residences $4.66 monthly and will be billing multi-dwelling residences $2.51. Taxpayers will make up the difference in the two-tiered billing. In essence this means one group of taxpayers will subsidize another, either through property tax or recycling funding from provincial coffers. If taxes go up, it is not because of Cosmo’s recycling contract; it’s because council decided that single-dwelling homes should pay more than multi-dwelling residences.
Then it was implied that Cosmo has received grants totalling about a $1 million over the last decade. While true, it is rather misleading as the grant is in essence property tax relief. It is relief covered under a civic policy which grants to numerous non-profit organizations — Cosmo being one — the equivalent of the property tax assessed. Weigh this relief against the tax holidays council has given businesses and developers over the years.
In 1982-83 the Cosmo group bought the existing land and building for $1.5 million. Given today’s property values it might not seem like much, but back then it was a huge amount of money. After the purchase the Cosmo coffers were empty, and the organization approached the city for $200,000 in financial assistance to renovate the building for its purposes. The negotiations resulted in the council of that era striking an agreement with Cosmo, wherein Cosmo would transfer title to the $1.5 million property to the city for the sum of $200,000, and the city would lease it back to Cosmo for a $1 a year.
The city benefited by securing ownership of a valuable piece of property and by assisting a much-needed service in Saskatoon. This is not simply largesse on the part of the city, but a contractual arrangement that benefited both parties. And it should be noted that Cosmo has agreed to pay property tax on the portion of the property that is used for recycling.
Then it was reported that Cosmo received $1.54 million in provincial money over the last five years. It sounds a lot more when you report it as lump sum, rather than saying about $300,000 a year. What actually happened is that the province gave money to the Saskatchewan Association of Rehabilitation Centres (SARC) to distribute province-wide to organizations participating in rehabilitation/recycling services.
SARC evaluated and determined the share each agency would receive, and Cosmo’s share was based on the tonnage it recycled. This has absolutely nothing to do with the city, with the exception that Cosmo recycled 65,000 tonnes of material between the years 2004-13, thus saving the city substantial landfill costs. But it does recognize the decades of work Cosmo has done in recycling and rehabilitation support for the over 400 people it serves.
Next we heard Cosmo has free access to the landfill. Why would they need landfill services? Although Cosmo collection bins clearly state they are for paper and cardboard only, some folks use them as garbage bins. Cosmo workers sort out the garbage from the paper material, and then Cosmo hauls it to the landfill, saving the city from collecting and hauling this garbage. This reads more like a quid pro quo than a benefit to me.
Coun. Zach Jefferies lost me when he expressed his concern about awarding a contract to Cosmo by saying, “But it is a question of how we are the best stewards of tax dollars.” And then he followed up by suggesting the city should just give Cosmo annual funding rather than a contract for recycling services. His idea of stewardship of the public purse consists of giving money away rather than receiving a service for money spent.
Coun. Charlie Clark initially joined Jefferies on this handout scenario, but wound up voting against the contract because the numbers were too confusing. Go figure. Add to the stewardship issue the fact that council is spending future revenue without knowing when or how much or what conditions might be attached to the money coming from the province. And if provincial money comes, shouldn’t that money benefit the recycling costs of all civic taxpayers?
Although there are times when I am hard on Mayor Don Atchison, I do want to recognize and applaud him for his humanity when he publicly commented “great cities also care for those who are most vulnerable.” Cities are not just about bridges and amenities; they are about people and a quality of life.
Now we can gird our loins and prepare for phases two and three of the garbage wars. Another bin to store and collect organics, with the inevitable user fees for garbage pickup to follow.