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Complaints about Hernando County garbage collection by Republic Services piling up

BROOKSVILLE — Still fielding between 400 and 500 calls a day, Republic Services officials stood before the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday and promised to continue to improve their garbage collection service.

More than five months after Republic became the county's sole residential garbage collection company, business unit manager Randy Canal thanked the county for its patience and acknowledged it has been the company's most difficult transition ever.

Both Republic and county officials offered suggestions about how service might improve. But it was the last few months of calls from irate customers that commissioners focused on Tuesday.

"Honestly,'' Commissioner Dave Russell told Republic officials, "our staff is getting hammered.''

Most of the problems that county workers are hearing about relate to a lack of communication. People often call the county when repeated calls to Republic's customer service office are not returned or do not go through, Russell said.

Joe Assalti, Republic's division manager, assured Russell that the company has six people working full time to handle complaints and answer questions. When they anticipate an increase in the volume of calls, they increase the staff.

"I'd just like to see more,'' Russell said.

Commissioner Jim Adkins said he would also like to see better communication and better service from the company. He said he had fielded numerous calls about missed service, yard waste issues, billing problems and confusion over recycling.

"My emails and my telephone calls have been tremendous,'' Adkins said. And, as for the county staff answering complaints, "They're at wit's end," he said.'

Brenda Frazier, the county's community relations coordinator, said customers were continuing to have problems getting simple answers about service and billing issues.

Scott Harper, the county's solid waste manager, offered one suggestion that he thought would help with billing. He recommended that the commission consider putting the garbage collection fee on the tax bills of property owners — the same way the annual solid waste assessment is billed.

That solution would cut down on the phone calls and emails, take care of landlord and tenant questions, and solve the issue of people who thought they had paid but didn't and people who said they didn't get a bill, Harper said.

That was one of the options on the table when voters overwhelmingly defeated automated, countywide garbage collection on a referendum two years ago, Commissioner John Druzbick reminded commissioners.

Harper said it wasn't the same issue; he wasn't advocating countywide automated service.

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he continues to get questions from people who don't want to be in the mandatory collection zone in Spring Hill. Many say they weren't living in Spring Hill when voters approved the zone years ago.

Dukes said the county would need to address the issue in the future.

In the meantime, Harper said there are some issues with the borders of mandatory zone that need to be addressed. He displayed a map that demonstrated how some subdivisions — and in some cases, even lots — are divided between mandatory and nonmandatory zones.

Harper said the county is also working on interactive maps that will be added to the county's website to show where the mandatory zones are located and, eventually, zones for recycling and yard waste by day.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Agreed to consider the idea of a "companion registry,'' similar to domestic registries approved in other locations, that gives unmarried domestic partners certain rights, including participating in health care choices. Commissioner Dave Russell raised the issue after a constituent spoke about it during Tuesday's meeting. Russell noted that some couples choose to co-habitate to avoid the tax and Social Security penalties that they would face if they were married. He said he wanted to do more research on the topic, but commissioners agreed to talk more about it at a meeting in July.

• Welcomed new County Administrator Len Sossamon. "I know there are some challenges,'' Sossamon said. But he assured the commission that former interim administrator Ron Pianta had fully briefed him on the important issues and that he was ready to begin addressing them. Sossamon said he hoped to improve the quality of life for Hernando residents and planned "to be here for an extended time."

• Approved the concept of moving forward to have Lake Townsen Preserve serve as a recipient site for gopher tortoises displaced by county projects. By developing its own recipient site and training county workers to move tortoises, the county could cut the cost of relocations in half, officials said. Gopher tortoises are protected animals, and their burrows create habitat that helps other animals find cover.

• Approved a special benefits unit for residents of the Weeki Wachee Gardens area to allow the dredging of an access canal the waterfront homeowners use to get to the Weeki Wachee River. Sixty-one percent of the lot owners agreed to the special assessment they will pay, which amounts to a one-time fee of $1,212. Some boat owners in the canal system have said that sand washing into the canal makes it impossible to pass through the canal at any time other than high tide.

Complaints about Hernando County garbage collection by Republic Services piling up 05/22/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 9:33pm]
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