by LISA MACNEIL
The board voted unanimously to deny an increase of the solid waste collection Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) from $172.80 to 176.40 annually.
The vote itself was irregular, since the increase was written into Republic Services’ original contract as an incremental increase regardless of performance.
Perturbed by this condition, as were the others, Commissioner John Allocco said, “What is the point of me sitting up here and voting if I don’t actually have a vote … that (we) only get one vote, and the vote is ‘yes?’ ”
Commissioner Steve Champion moved to deny the increase in spite of the contract. Champion reported that he met with Republic representatives and told them that it was probably going to be a unanimous ‘no’ vote. “I asked them if we were in breach of contract. They said, ‘well, kind of…’ I said, ‘Yeah, well you’re in breach of contract, because you’re not performing.’ So I call their bluff, and make the motion to deny the increase, and sue us, then.”
Several residents representing both mandatory and voluntary households spoke to the board about missed collections, having never received recycle bins or smaller carts, and the general poor quality of Republic’s customer services.
BOCC Chairman Jeff Holcomb opened the board discussion by remarking that Republic had received “some bad information” when they first bid on the county’s contract, resulting in Republic operating with a loss of revenue. Subsequently, two fee increases were passed, and Republic offered yard waste collection once per week instead of every second week.
Holcomb said he didn’t receive many complaints from residents until the latest contract went into effect, which offered special carts to be emptied by specialized trucks. However, he commended the representatives from Republic who were present as being attentive when he passed along complaints from his constituents.
Seeing that he could get the problems remedied quickly, Holcomb told residents to call him, and not Republic’s customer service number. After some thought, he said, “Why should I work as (Republic’s) customer service representative?”
“I feel like the Commissioner of Trash,” Commissioner Steve Champion said, reporting that roughly 90% of his contacts with the community are related to the trash collection problems.
Holcomb and Champion both said that they did not want to approve the fee increase “as a matter of principle,” even though Champion said that in eight years, Republic hasn’t missed a single collection at his home. “We need some kind of checkpoint to figure out how many stops are missed.” Champion also recommended that the commission send a letter to Republic suggesting changes in their call centers and getting smaller carts and recycle bins to the households that have requested them.
Commissioner John Allocco also reported hundreds of phone calls and emails and called Republic’s customer service “just terrible,” and recommends fining the company to the fullest extent allowed by the contract. Allocco also acknowledged the local Republic staff as being “phenomenal,” but said that they should not have to be contacted by the commissioners. “You should be hearing from your customer service (team).”
Commissioner Wayne Dukes stated he would like to see the contract amended to include a local call center and customer service team.
Commissioner John Mitten agreed with the others regarding the state of customer service, and added that he was also concerned with the non-ad valorem vendor payment being put on ad valorem property taxes. Mitten reviewed that the tax was meant to remedy the problem of non-payment when coupled with county water and sewer bills, because it is illegal to disconnect those utilities for non-payment to Republic.
“I’m fundamentally opposed to … a vendor placing someone’s house at risk because of that vendor… putting (fees) on their property taxes.” Mitten went on to say that he struggles with the idea that there is no mechanism in place to refund citizens when fines are collected from Republic for poor performance.
Mitten also raised the issue of part-time residents being assessed for garbage collection for the full year. Prior to the property tax assessment, “Snowbirds” paid only for the months they used services.
Regarding Republic’s low cost with respect to other markets, Holcomb remarked, they come to your house two days a week for $14 a month. That’s still the best market rate around.”
Mary Boyer of Republic Services, joined by other Republic staff reported decreases in missed collections and other deficiencies since the beginning of the contract. While the rollout has been anomalous, the consensus of the Republic team is that the number of consumer complaints have decreased overall.
Brian Thornton, Director of Operations for Republic also addressed the concerns brought by the commissioners and meeting attendees. According to Thornton, the primary reason Republic is seeking an increase is so they can give raises to their 52 member staff, as well as hire 8 additional employees.
County Attorney Garth Coller cautioned the board that violation of any contract could result in litigation against the county. Likewise, Coller said to the Republic staff, “I want to warn you … that there is a level of dissatisfaction that is so high, that I anticipate somebody’s going to be coming to me to say, ‘Isn’t Republic in breach of their contract?’ I want to make sure you at your level understand the seriousness. I expect that sometime in the very near future, my client will come to me and say, ‘We probably need to determine whether or not to continue this contract.”