BROOKSVILLE — The fourth day of new garbage service for Hernando County residents dawned Thursday, and still some people had not seen the first sign of a Republic Services garbage truck in their neighborhoods.
Earlier in the week, as floods of calls inundated the company and county offices over untouched trash, interim county administrator Ron Pianta put Republic Services division manager Joe Assalti on notice that the county was concerned about the company fulfilling its contract.
"We would like for you to review with the (County Commission) Republic's efforts to comply with the contract terms regarding public notification of the transition,'' Pianta wrote. "In addition, it is the county's expectation that all areas where collection was missed or not provided are collected by the close of business on Wednesday, Jan. 4.''
With that deadline not met, county officials were still working with Republic Services on Thursday to resolve issues related to the uncollected garbage. In many cases, notices of trash pickup days did not arrive on time. Some residents east of U.S. 41 received bills from Republic Services even though they were not required to take the service. And many customers have been unable to get through on phone lines to talk with Republic customer service representatives.
The company had enough staffers to take up to 1,600 calls per day, and on Thursday it was exploring whether it could add 80 to 100 lines to handle customer questions and complaints, according to Brenda Frazier, the county's community relations coordinator.
Those lines have been so inundated that many people, when they were unable to get through to Republic Services, turned to calling county officials and commissioners to try to get answers.
While Frazier said the volume of calls to the government center was slowing by midday Thursday, there were still people waiting for pickup service.
Mary Northrop, a resident on Coronado Drive in Spring Hill, was still without service early Thursday. She reported that vultures had already ripped into her trash, creating a mess.
"I don't know what they're going to do. I've picked it up twice,'' she said. "I hope the county gets their shoes on the right feet.''
Lenora O'Berry, who lives off Cedar Lane, southeast of Brooksville, said she had taken her garbage can to the street for the last six days and was still waiting to see a garbage truck. While she had been excited that her garbage bill would be lower with Republic, "we were quite happy with the previous company. ... At least our garbage got picked up.''
The company had made extra sweeps into neighborhoods and also picked up in places where trash had been strewn about, Frazier said. High winds earlier in the week contributed to those problems.
There were also plans to get word out to people east of U.S. 41, who were previously customers of Central Carting, about the billing issues. That company refused to provide its customer lists to Republic Services, so Republic used the county's database of property owners and sent bills to all of them.
Frazier said some of those people might think that the county's garbage referendum in 2010 had passed and that collection was now mandatory. It is not. She said she encouraged people with whom she spoke, if they didn't want the service, to let Republic Services officials know that, either by calling them or marking it on the bill they received and sending it back to the company.
In a news release late Thursday, Republic officials said: "The company has experienced high call volume and because of this has added additional resources from around the country to assist in answering residents' concerns. Republic's people will also be working extended hours to make sure that all customers are served.''
The County Commission is set to discuss the garbage transition Tuesday, and top Republic Services representatives have been ordered to be present to answer for the myriad of problems.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.