Changes coming to Bay Roberts garbage collection, fire protection fees

By Craig Westcott / August 18, 2023

The Town of Bay Roberts took two big steps this week towards resolving an issue with a neighbour that has been bedeviling it for several years.

At Tuesday’s public council meeting, Mayor Walter Yetman reported that Town staff have reached an agreement with the Harbour Master at the Port de Grave Harbour Authority about the collection of fire protection fees from berth owners in that community.

The Town had been trying for the past two years to get the Harbour Authority to furnish a list of berth holders, or come up with some other way of ensuring better compliance when it comes to paying for fire protection fees. Bay Roberts looks after fire protection for Port de Grave, which doesn’t have a council of its own but is managed by a Local Service District.

Bay Roberts has also been trying for the past couple of years to improve compliance with the payment of fire protection fees by residents and business in Port de Grave as well. The compliance rate has been as high as 78 per cent, but still not close to what the larger municipality would like. However, the Town finally seems to be making progress on that front too, according to chief administrative officer Nigel Black.

But first, came news of the deal with the Harbour Authority.

“A plan has been made to address the collection issue,” Mayor Yetman said. “The Harbour Authority is meeting in August to accept our agreement. That’s good news.”

The update from Black during his CAO’s report, meanwhile, is even bigger news, and not only for residents of Port de Grave, and not only when it comes to fees for fire protection.

Black reported on discussions he has had with the Eastern Regional Service Board, which is responsible for overseeing waste management, or garbage collection, to use less of a buzz term, on the Avalon Peninsula. When council first tried two years ago to increase the compliance rate on fire protection fees in Port de Grave and the smaller neighbour of Otterbury, it asked the Service Board to share its list of customers in those communities so that it could post bills to them in the mail. But the Eastern Service Board refused.

Now the Board appears willing to take on the burden of actually collecting fire protection fees for the Town of Bay Roberts.

“Basically, they said they would do it and they could do it,” said Black. “It’s a case of council making a formal request for them to do it.”

The CAO said the Board needs a five or six-month lead time to implement a process to collect the fees. Also, the Board will only take on the collection of fees from the date it takes over the billing. It won’t try to recover back fees that have been unpaid from previous years.

“That would be our responsibility to try and collect them,” Black said. “But moving forward, we would set our rates, they would bill it out, collect an administration fee, and then they’d remit the fees to the Town of Bay Roberts. So, it does seem like a much better way to provide this type of service in the unincorporated areas, and the main reason for that is they have a better list of which properties actually exist. And the reason they have a better list is they already provide garbage services to those areas.”

Black recommended that council approve a request to enter into an agreement with the Service Board to start collection of the fire protection fees on January 1 next year.

Councillor Dean Franey promptly moved a motion to do just that. It was seconded by councillor Frank Deering.

Deputy Mayor Geoff Seymour asked who would be responsible for collecting any future unpaid fees once the agreement is in place. 

“They undertake the process of collection,” Black said.

Councillor Silas Badcock wanted to know if businesses could be included in the new billing scheme.

“It can be,” said Black. “It’s up to us, I guess, at the end of the day as to what we establish for rates. So, we establish the rates, they bill them out accordingly. It’s for properties – they wouldn’t get into boats – so we would address that from a Harbour Authority point of view.”

Badcock said if Bay Roberts is offering fire protection to businesses, it should be collecting fees. “There are B&Bs there and hair salons, the list goes on,” he said. “There’s a lot more businesses than you realize. But we’re moving in the right direction.”

Mayor Yetman brought the discussion to a head by reminding council of the lead time needed by the Service Board. 

“If you want to entertain the service, this is kind of do or die kind of time,” Black advised. “If you don’t do it (make the request) now, you may have to wait for another year.”

With that, Yetman called the vote and Franey’s motion passed unanimously.

Black then turned to the subject of garbage collection, which is the Eastern Regional Board’s real area of expertise, as it collects trash for almost all the municipalities on the Avalon aside from the bigger centres around St. John’s and scattered smaller communities which continue to tender out garbage collection on their own. Bay Roberts, which is sort of in the middle, both in terms of its size and its resources, employs its own workers to collect garbage, like St. John’s, CBS, Paradise and Mount Pearl do.

Black said the Board confirmed it would entertain the idea of collecting residential garbage in Bay Roberts at the current rate of $200 per household annually.

“They can include non-residential properties, if council would want them to,” Black added. “I indicated to them that at this point in time we only provide residential collections, so I anticipated we’d probably want to do that in the future as well.”

Black noted the Board provides the service for a large number of communities and if it were to take on Bay Roberts it would add the town to its next tender call for companies interested in providing the service, which is scheduled to happen next July.

“They did indicate that if we are interested, again there is a lead time, so they would want to know sooner rather than later if we’re interested in being included in that tender,” Black said. “There are also some provisions in the tendering documents whereby they can start earlier than the July timeframes, so if you wanted to start in June or May or April, you could potentially do that as well. They don’t recommend a winter start, because there are a lot of issues in terms of learning the routes and other problems with weather, and that sort of thing… That’s why, as you’ll see in my report, I recommended a targeted range between April 1 and July 1 of next year… My recommendation, based on your direction from past discussions, is that we make a motion at this time to request the Eastern Regional Services Board to enter into an agreement to provide waste collection for the Town of Bay Roberts.”

Mayor Yetman asked council if anyone was ready to make such a motion.

“So moved,” said councillor Deering. 

Councillor Ross Petten quickly seconded it.

Franey pointed out the $200 charge per household is inclusive of tipping fees at the Robin Hood Bay Landfill. “Which does make a difference, obviously,” he said.

Franey reckoned the number of households in Bay Roberts as being 2,400 or 2,500.

“It’s a little bit more than that, but it’s in that neighbourhood,” Black confirmed.

“And as the CAO mentioned in his report, there are some substantial financial issues for our budget,” noted Yetman. “Our waste collection is a huge budget line, and those transitions would of course have to be dealt with.”

Deputy Mayor Seymour allowed Bay Roberts could save on tipping fees at the dump, and also benefit from the sale of its garbage trucks that would no longer be needed.

But staffing levels, Seymour pointed out, are not projected to change, according to the CAO’s report.

“We’re not going to lay anyone off, but staffing has to be looked at,” he said.

“That was the direction of council previously, that if we were entertaining this as a route to go with waste collection, we wouldn’t be doing it to lay people off, we would be doing it to reallocate people to other duties,” confirmed Black. “As you know, public works has a long list of duties that need to get done, and sometimes they aren’t, because of waste collection.”

The Town also has to consider there will be attrition of staff in future years, Seymour said, referring to retirements and people moving on to other positions.

“We talked about all this when we looked at the financial side of it and we will have to talk about it again when we do our budgets, but in the meantime, in order to get this ball rolling, we need to make the request, if it is the direction you want to go,” Black said.

In addition to the savings cited by Seymour, Yetman said the Town will save on insurance, maintenance and fuel if it doesn’t have garbage trucks anymore. “So, there’s a lot to look at here… but most important, we can allocate people to look after a very long list of things that need to be done,” he suggested.

“We’d be in time and money by doing this,” agreed councillor Perry Bowering. 

The mayor then called the vote on the motion, which passed unanimously.

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