WESTLOCK — The four transfer sites in Westlock County will remain open for 2021, but their future fate is still up in the air.
That decision means councillors have to find about $200,000 in the budget for this year to cover the shortage — the draft balanced budget included the closure of two transfer sites.
No decisions will be made on how the shortage will be covered until April 27, when councillors will see the updated budget, but deputy reeve Brian Coleman suggested a one per cent tax increase for 2021 and a $100,000 withdrawal from reserves.
“A quarter of the year has already gone, a quarter of the costs are already sunk, we’re comparing something that necessarily might be good or bad. We've also realized that there have been changes in our budget, the stress that we had earlier identified has been relieved considerably, and I think that any closure at this time is out of place,” said Coun. Victor Julyan during the April 20 governance and priorities meeting.
He wasn’t specific about how the budgetary stressors had been relieved or what they were, but the county did write off $1.3 million in unpaid oil and gas taxes since 2018 and their associated penalties, which would have been carried forward into 2021. The write-off freed up a one-time provincial grant that would’ve gone into covering bad debts.
Coun. Isaac Skuban, who has been on the side of closing the sites as admin suggested since December, pushed council into an extended conversation and asked for clarification on their positions for the future of the sites as well.
Coleman, Julyan, Coun. Lou Hall and Dennis Primeau, all of whom are in favour of keeping the transfer sites open for 2021, also think the issue should be revisited and public consultations have to take place.
Skuban said he is worried that public consultation might not occur until 2022 — four months have passed since councillors reverted the closure decision and no consultation process has been put in place yet. A municipal election is also scheduled for October, and so far only reeve Jared Stitsen has officially announced his intentions to run again.
Stitsen is also the only councillor opposed to closing the transfer sites at any point in time.
“I’ve had lots of consultation with residents in my area. We have a transfer station in the south and it is a ways for people to go to the regional (landfill). I did not have one person in favour of closing it, exactly the opposite,” Stitsen said.
“These facilities are set up properly. I think we’ve seen in the past the cost increase at these transfer stations has been minimal, we’re looking at a couple percent. I know we have some challenges with waste disposal but I don’t think our transfer stations is the crux of it. We need to look into some other things. I'm not in favour of closing them at any point.”
In February, ag and environmental services manager Jacolyn Tigert said the costs of running the transfer sites has increased 22 per cent in the last 10 years, but the amount of money they pay the Westlock Regional Waste Management Commission has increased 174 per cent over the same period of time.
Commission manager Tom Moore told the Westlock News then that the amount of garbage the county has brought into the landfill has also increased from 2,400 tonnes in 2014 to 3,340 tonnes in 2020.
Skuban also corrected Primeau, who mistakenly believed the $60 landfill card was intended to cover the cost of running all four transfer sites. The draft Budget 2021 document presented in December had both policy changes already embedded in the calculations that led to no tax increase.
CAO Kay Spiess said the budget process will be starting much earlier this year, and options can be brought for the future of the transfer stations around June.