SURREY — One environmentally conscious family is disputing the City of Surrey's garbage collection rates for homes with secondary suites, saying the fees don't reflect the usage for homes that produce less waste.
Over the last six months, Jennifer Holloway has had a back-and-forth with the city over its secondary suite garbage collection fee. It started when the Holloways received a letter from the city noting that they would be charged $141 per year for increased waste services on top of the standard garbage rate of $281 for homes without suites.
That $141 entitles the Holloways to an optional upgrade to a 360-litre garbage bin, but Holloway said they don't want one - they are avid recyclers and composters, and they hardly fill their current 240-litre bin halfway every two weeks.
So if they don't produce more waste, why are they shelling out $141 annually for more waste services? "We're asking, 'What are we paying for?'" said Holloway. "For no service being provided, they expect home owners to just hand over money to them. We have a little bit of an issue with that."
Holloway lives with her husband Shane and their three children, as well as her parents, but even with seven people under one roof, she said their garbage bin has never overflowed.
Furthermore, homes without suites can upgrade their 240-litre garbage bin to the 360-litre bin for $141 per year, bringing their annual rate to a total of $422 - the same rate the Holloways are paying without churning out an extra 1,440 litres of waste every 12 months.
Holloway said her family should pay the going rate of $281 per year if they're using the same size bins as any suite-less household.
"We don't require this, and our family doesn't see why we should have to pay it," she said. "They're not providing what the charge is for."
But Rob Costanzo, deputy manager of operations for the City of Surrey, said the increased fee is tied to the existence of a secondary suite, regardless of the requested size of garbage bin.
"I think they're missing the point," he said. "It's a base rate - there's no cost that drops beneath the base rate. Not for that household or any household in the city, for that matter.
"If you don't want to pay that rate, get rid of the suite."
In a letter from Costanzo to the Holloways, he wrote, "The city does not offer nor negotiate annual service fees," and that the city does not have a formal dispute process for this type of matter.
But Holloway said she is adamant that the fee be dropped, and she won't budge.
"I wouldn't pay hydro if they didn't supply me with power," she said. "Why would I pay the City of Surrey when they don't provide me with the service they're charging me for?" In August, the Holloways received an amended tax bill from the city, reading, "This statement of taxes includes changes to the secondary suite garbage charges and secondary suite service fees." She said she sent it right back.
"We find it heavy-handed and unfair," said Holloway of the garbage charge, clarifying that her family is not disputing the secondary suite fee. "We don't expect to not pay for what we use, but we don't expect to be charged for what we don't use."
To encourage residents to be more eco-friendly, the City of Surrey doesn't charge households for additional recycling and organics bins. The city is currently trying to reach Metro Vancouver's target of diverting 70 per cent of the city's waste from landfills by 2015.
Holloway said offering discounts for households with secondary suites that opt for smaller garbage bins would be an incentive for residents to help the city reach that goal.
"They need to start to look at things on a case-by-case basis, instead of this blind blanket, painting every home with the same brush," she said. "'If you have a suite in your home, then you have to do this.' Well, why?" Holloway said the city must have a record of each home that requested different size garbage bins, and that it wouldn't be difficult to issue discounts.
When asked about creating such an incentive, Costanzo noted that the city's Rethink Waste program, launched last October, has been quite successful to date. In April, Costanzo gave Surrey city council a performance report for the program, saying that the city had already reached the 70-per-cent diversion target.
Lastly, Holloway said she has been greatly frustrated in dealing with the City of Surrey. Her letters have been passed around through various departments, including the mayor's office - all over a dispute which, from her point of view, defies common sense.
"They have a way of corresponding with citizens that is really ineffective," she said. "I think I've dealt with four or five people on one subject. I work for the City of Vancouver and I deal extensively with bylaws - I've never seen such, to be honest, incompetence."
© Copyright 2013