BROOKSVILLE — In neighborhoods across Hernando County, Tuesday morning dawned cold and, in some cases, littered.
The combination of garbage and recycling waste left out — along with stiff winds and poor communication about when it all would be collected — left a mess both at curbsides and in the offices of the county and its new waste hauler.
Hundreds of frustrated Hernando County residents — all awaiting word about the new days for their garbage pickups — flooded Republic Services and county phone lines after promised notices were not received in the mail.
Monday was the first day of the new county garbage franchise, under which one hauler is replacing three.
Republic, doing business as Seaside Sanitation, was dealing with questions on a case-by-case basis. But the sheer volume of calls nearly crippled the company's customer service phone bank.
By midday Tuesday, a Republic official had notified the county that in addition to providing service to their Tuesday/Friday customers on Tuesday, they had put more trucks on the streets to make pickups for Monday/Thursday customers who didn't know to put out their garbage on Monday.
In addition, with the first scheduled pickup of yard waste set for today, trucks today will pick up garbage for anyone who has not yet had a pickup this week, according to an e-mail sent to the county by Joe Assalti, Republic Services division manager.
The fleet of new blue Republic trucks rolled out on Monday to begin providing service to more than 69,000 customers, but many didn't know whether that was their day for pickup because many notices had not yet been delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
"People are as mad as wet hens, and so am I,'' said 30-year Spring Hill resident Ron Gifford. "Most people I've talked to got no schedule, no notice and no bills. … It's just really messed up.''
A number of the more than three dozen people who contacted the Tampa Bay Times did not know that their hauler had changed or that they would be on a different pickup schedule because they had received no notice.
"The Christmas spirit is definitely gone,'' said Scott Harper, the solid waste manager for the county, who fielded calls from customers, some of whom expressed anger and frustration. "People don't like change, but the lack of information doesn't help.''
Harper said the problem was compounded by the strong winds Monday night and Tuesday that spread the trash throughout neighborhoods.
"What really hurt us was the 30-mph winds,'' Harper said. "I can't help with Mother Nature.''
Part of the delay in the notices was because they were sent as bulk mail during the busy holiday season, officials said.
"We are very sorry for the delay in notifying residents of the change in collection days," Randy Canal, Republic business unit manager, said in a news release issued Tuesday. "Unfortunately, only some of the notices were distributed. Everyone should receive their notice advising of their collection day by Friday. We regret our error and will ensure that all waste is collected as promised."
Those notices will include information about regular twice-a-week garbage service, once-a-week curbside recycling and twice-a-month yard waste pickup.
Another issue with some customers of the previous waste-hauling companies was that they were notified on their bills that they would be charged an $18 "new customer fee.'' But officials with Republic Services have said that they will not charge that fee to anyone who had trash service with the previous haulers.
Harper urged people to keep the confusion in perspective. With so many changes affecting all of unincorporated Hernando County, a few hundred missed notices "is really miniscule,'' he said.
He said people need to be patient and they will receive the service they expect.
"You've just got to relax and remain calm,'' he said.
He noted that one angry customer was on the phone with him Monday, blasting him for the confusion just as the garbage truck rolled up the street toward his home.
"I think it will all be all right in about two weeks'' as everyone adjusts to the change in the schedule, he said.
County staffers will provide an update on the start-up during Tuesday's County Commission meeting.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.