BROOKSVILLE — When Republic Services took over garbage collection in Hernando County in January, the phones at the government center didn't stop ringing for months.
Customers complained about a lack of information from the company, missed collections and billing problems.
The phones may soon begin ringing again.
When customers get their fourth-quarter bills from Republic, they will notice the price has gone up.
There's just one problem: Republic wasn't allowed to raise its rate.
On Friday, the county's chief procurement officer, Russell Wetherington, formally notified Republic that it was not authorized to increase the price of its service.
"Therefore, to be compliant with the terms of your contract, you must make the proper adjustments to the collection services on your next billing cycle to the affected residents,'' Wetherington wrote to company officials.
Republic officials originally had asked for a rate increase in June. In August, Wetherington said, he told company representatives that he would not approve a rate increase. Wetherington learned last week that bills for the final three months of 2012 had gone out with monthly increases in the range of 20 to 25 cents.
The contract states that Republic can adjust its rates based on the Consumer Price Index and the Oil Price Information Service, but those changes must be measured against the "previous contract year.'' According to the contract, "the adjustments shall reflect the percentage change in the CPI and OPIS measured from April 1 in the previous calendar year to March 31 of the calendar year in which the adjustment will occur.''
Republic has only been providing countywide service since Jan. 1.
"Your first contract year is from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2012, which means you may submit a request for a price increase in 2013,'' Wetherington wrote.
He suggested that Republic officials read all of the price provisions of the contract in context, not in isolation, then reminded company officials that "any changes to the contract agreement will be made by issuing a contract amendment.''
The county has received a few calls from customers with questions about their fourth-quarter bills, said Susan Goebel-Canning, the county's director of environmental services.
She said customers should be aware that the county knows about the mistake and that officials are taking steps to make sure that it is corrected.
Randy Canal, business unit manager for Republic, said he wasn't aware that there was a problem with the price increase. He declined to comment further until he learned more about the disagreement.
When Republic's service first began, the company failed to get proper notice out to customers about the days and details of the collection of their garbage and recyclables. Neighborhoods and streets were missed routinely for weeks, and frustrated customers — unable to get through on Republic's customer service lines — flooded county officials with calls.
Every residential property in the county — with the exception of the city of Brooksville — was then billed for the service whether the property owner wanted it, or had previously received service, or not. Without a customer list from the county's prior haulers, Republic officials said they had no way to figure out who was and who was not interested in garbage collection service.
By May, the company was still fielding 400 to 500 customer calls per day. Republic officials appeared before the County Commission and vowed to do better. In subsequent months, the volume of calls decreased.
Last month, the commission agreed to allow Republic to begin offering automated garbage collection in neighborhoods that seek the service.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.