Garbage pickup launch shaky in West Blount; expected to improve

Residential garbage pickup in District 1 in the county’s western area got off to a shaky start last week following the changeover to Republic Services as the exclusive franchise provider for the first time in that area. Republic has served the remaining area of the county since 2014.

The situation was compounded by two circumstances, according to county administrator John Bullard, who was monitoring the changeover. First, no complete list of customer names and addresses was available from the previous provider of the service, and a list had to be created quickly from various sources. Second, new customers were given inaccurate and conflicting information when they called Republic’s customer response line to inquire about arrangements for getting the barrels in place before the initial scheduled pickup. Both situations interfered with the timely delivery of trash receptacles to some of the area’s approximately 4,000 affected customers and contributed to frustration for a number of them, Bullard said.

As a result, Republic committed to work through the past weekend to deliver trash receptacles to customer residences, and to work with customers if the first pickup date was missed to either provide a refund for the missed pickup, or to provide an additional unscheduled pickup, depending on individual circumstances.

“The commission wants to resolve these initial problems as quickly as possible, and also make sure everyone is held accountable for providing the service according to the contract,” Bullard said. “As far as getting the problems fixed, I feel pretty confident things will be worked out by the end of this week and will run smoothly once these initial problems are resolved.”

Bullard said representatives from Republic are on the agenda for the commission work session on Thursday, June 13, to answer commissioners’ questions about problems involved in the garbage pickup changeover, and prospects going forward. “People who are still having problems are welcome to attend,” Bullard said, “and may be on the agenda to speak, if they call ahead to the commission office and get scheduled.”

Bullard said that the commission staff is taking an active role by acting as an interface to refer customers’ problems directly to Republic’s local representative for handling. “If people are still having problems, they should call the commission office at (205) 625-4160 and let us know what the situation is. We’ll notify the Republic rep immediately, and so far, they’re doing a good job at handling these referrals,” he said.

Bullard said almost all of the problems reported have come from District 1. “This is from memory now,” he said, “but I can only remember one or two problems being reported from the rest of the county, but remember, there was no changeover involved for anyone else.”

District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong, who has handled a number of citizen calls over the last 10 days, said his call volume has subsided recently, that Republic worked over the weekend to complete trash can delivery, and that he had seen them making pickup calls during the day Monday. He said he expects matters will improve from this point on. He attributed some of the problems experienced to confusion with the garbage pickup service the city of Warrior has with the same provider, but under different contract terms.

Garbage pickup for businesses is inherently more complicated than for residences because of pre-existing contracts between individual business customers and various garbage pickup providers. Those contracts specify differing pickup volumes, times, contract termination dates, and other terms of service differences, whereas the commission contract with Santek Waste Disposal (for business customers) provides for an exclusive franchise business waste disposal arrangement.

The conflict between the exclusive franchise concept vs. pre-existing individual contracts for business accounts has not been resolved, and may be resolvable only as existing contracts expire.