BELIZE CITY, Tues. Aug. 31. 2021– The general public has been looking to the Belize City Council and the Belize Waste Control (BWC) for answers after noticing this week that their residential garbage was not picked up according to the schedule to which everyone is accustomed. Following some complaints from residents, the Council put out a press release stating that the “residential garbage collections by the provider are now scheduled for one pickup on the northside and one on the southside of the city per week”.
The manager of Belize Waste Control, George Lamb, has said that the reason for this disruption of the schedule is that the City Council owes the company over one million dollars for about twenty weeks of garbage collection services. Mr. Lamb said that the arrears have placed a strain on the BWC which they cannot afford to continue shouldering.
Mr. Lamb also told local media, after the issuance of CitCo’s press release, that he was surprised by the announcement of a change in the garbage collection schedule, as there had been no discussion between CitCo and BWC about such an arrangement. Both Lamb and Mayor Bernard Wagner have said, however, that they are in communications to try and map a way forward. Mayor Wagner confirmed this in an interview and also shared the reasons for the delay in CitCo’s payments to BWC and the changes in the garbage collection schedule — both of which he attributed to the economic crisis Belize is currently facing due to COVID:
“Garbage collections costs is significant – one of the biggest. The truth of the matter is that the pandemic came, the Council faced serious financial challenges given the fact that people are just not paying property taxes. We see property taxes hovering in the neighborhood of a 53% compliance rate. That is very, very low. Our financial capability has been significantly impacted, and so we’ve been behind on our payments, and Waste Control has been very lenient with us and they have worked along with us. We have had a very good relationship, I must say. But it reaches a point where, they themselves cannot even continue to sustain the operation. The cost of diesel, paying their workers on a daily basis, and then you’re not getting your payment on time, certainly will impact your ability to perform the job of garbage collection and that is where we sit,” explained Mayor Wagner.
Mayor Wagner also said that approximately $31 million of property taxes is still unpaid, and with garbage collection costing roughly $3 million annually, the Council finds itself in a very difficult fiscal position. And while all parties acknowledge that Belizeans are struggling to meet their financial obligations, which has directly resulted in this sanitation issue, the solution seems to be the introduction of new fees for residential garbage collection. Mayor Wagner said that this is something being discussed at the mayoral level via the Belize Mayors Association.
“At some point in time, the residents of the city will have to face the reality that the cost of garbage is excessive. And they will have to at some point in time begin to realize that you have to pay for garbage fee. We are the only municipality that is not legislated to collect residential garbage fee. All the other municipalities, the town councils and the Belmopan City Council collect residential garbage fees. We can’t continue to spend $3 million annually on garbage. It just does not make sense. We can’t be utilizing the proceeds from property taxes. Property taxes are for the delivering of infrastructure, for traffic… But what has happened here, is that for some reason or the other, Belize City was left behind, not having the ability to collect garbage fees. And at the Mayor’s Association we are working feverishly on bringing Belize City aligned with the other municipalities,” he said.
The Councillor responsible for Sanitation, Micah Goodin, also stated that garbage fees might be the only way to remedy the situation, apart from a “bailout” from central government. During an interview on Sunup on Channel 7, Councillor Goodin remarked, “I think the only thing that can really save us right now in the interim is a financial bailout from the government of Belize. I think in the absence of that there is absolutely nothing we can do. Because the finances are just not there. It’s not as if though we have this large amount of money sitting in a bank somewhere and we’re just playing hardball. That’s not the case. I think we really need a financial bailout, but while we get that we need to consider new revenue streams…While we wait for that, we’re already starting the discussion about garbage tax. It is something that we raised in the last sitting of the Council. But again, that is going to require some level of legislation, we have to do consultations and that sort of thing before we can even get there…I think we will be met with a lot of resistance, especially because it is the time of Covid, but it is something for us to consider. It is something for us to consult with them.”
Mayor Wagner has stated that the Mayors Association is working towards putting garbage fee legislation in place by April 2022. The Mayor said they are considering collection fees of around $10 monthly to be introduced as garbage tax.