Winnipeg's waste collector was fined as much as $450,000 after the city received thousands of complaints about missed pickups since its grace period ended.
Senior city administration released the amount of fines levied against Emterra to public works chairman Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) on Friday amid growing pressure from members of council to make the figures public.
The move came after several members of city council tried to find out how much Winnipeg has fined Emterra for poor service since it began collecting garbage and recycling in the former AutoBin areas on Aug. 1 and from 165,000 households citywide in October. Winnipeg's public administration refused to disclose the figures to members of council, saying releasing the information could harm Emterra's business interests.
Vandal said senior city officials have told him Emterra has been fined between $350,000 and $450,000 for service deficiencies. He said Winnipeg's public administration was initially reluctant to release the amount of fines levied against Emterra for deficient garbage and recycling service since the number has not been finalized.
Vandal said he will ask city administration for more details at council's public works committee meeting on Friday and push for a new policy that would require civic officials to disclose relevant information to elected officials when they ask for it.
"I think it's important we be transparent," Vandal said on Sunday. "(The fine) is not a huge number and I'm confident we're moving in the right direction."
The administration's initial refusal to say how much the city has fined the waste collector for poor service prompted backlash from multiple members of council, who criticized the public service for withholding information from elected officials. Last week, Coun. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) wrote a letter to Emterra, encouraging the company to release the information to the public. On Friday, Mayor Sam Katz sent a letter to Vandal saying he has also been denied this information, but the public service must provide the information if the public works committee requests it. Katz said Vandal could ask city administration for the information at public works' Jan. 11 meeting, or call a special meeting to deal with the issue.
"This is fiscal information that is going to be part of the budget down the line. Why we just aren't getting the information I just find baffling," Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) said.
Vandal said he thinks publicizing the fines will encourage Emterra to improve its collection service, much like publicizing health-code violations encourages restaurants to keep their facilities up to par.
He said the numbers show Emterra's garbage and recycling collection has improved and expects problems with the city's new automated collection system will be worked out by spring.
City of Winnipeg 311 service data obtained by the Free Press reveals 10,402 complaints about missed garbage, recycling and yard-waste pickups were reported to the city in November and December. Although the number of missed pickups has dropped from a peak of 14,200 in October, data show there were still nearly 6,000 complaints of missed pickups in November and close to 4,500 in December.
An additional 1,851 instances of "breached missed pickups" -- when garbage, recyclables or yard waste was still not picked up after the problem was first reported to 311 -- have been logged since the beginning of November.
"That's a raw number," city solid waste manager Darryl Drohomerski said of the complaints received through 311. "We have to go and validate (them)."
The city's efforts to track Emterra's performance could be seen Saturday on a long stretch of blue bins in Charleswood that were supposed to have been emptied on Friday.
A worker in a City of Winnipeg truck drove slowly along Laxdal Road and stopped to look inside each bin to track the number of overdue collections of recyclables.
Drohomerski said not all complaints result in a financial penalty, and the city has other waste collectors besides Emterra.
BFI collects garbage and recyclables at apartments, commercial businesses and city facilities, and garbage in St. James, Garden City and the Maples, he said. The city levies similar fines for service disruptions.
Drohomerski said a small number of complaints each month could be duplicates from the same household or residents who forgot to put their garbage and recyclables out on time. He said city staff go through to check which complaints should result in a financial penalty for the waste collector.
"By rights, if we didn't miss them it shouldn't be a penalty," Drohomerski said.
Drohomerski said he expects the number of complaints about missed pickups to drop in the coming weeks.
He said both BFI and Emterra struggled with mechanical issues over the holidays, when the weather was cold, resulting in collection delays, particularly for apartments.
Data show complaints over missed garbage pickups did not drop significantly in December.
"If both companies hadn't experienced mechanical issues, the numbers would've been much lower over the holiday season," Drohomerski said.
Total missed-pickup complaints: 14,216
Yard waste not picked up: 2,728
Recycling not picked up: 6,560
Garbage not picked up: 4,928
Total missed-pickup complaints: 5,914
Yard waste not picked up: 535.
Recycling not picked up: 2,633
Garbage not picked up: 2,746
Total missed-pickup complaints: 4,488
Recycling not picked up: 1,961
Garbage not picked up: 2,527
-- source: City of Winnipeg, 311 service requests by electoral ward and service area