January has been a frustrating month for Spring Hill resident Helen Konewitch and her son, Mark, who lives next door on Freeport Drive.
After Republic Services took over garbage collection across Hernando County on Jan. 1, Konewitch has gotten service just three times. On Thursday, her regular garbage collection day, it took a couple of phone calls, but finally someone came to get her trash about 9 p.m.
Konewitch, who is disabled and has arranged to have garbage attendants pick up her trash at the door, said she never had a problem with the previous hauler, Waste Management.
"I don't know why they can't come get my garbage,'' she said. "It's so frustrating.''
Her son said the service has been an ongoing problem.
"When the supervisor tells you that they are absolutely going to pick you up and they don't,'' he said, "something is radically wrong.''
The problems the Konewitches are having with the waste hauler are not isolated instances. Since Republic Services took over countywide collection, thousands of residents have missed service. But as the month comes to a close, more of the issues are being resolved, officials said late last week.
Still, some problems linger, and on Friday county officials met to compile a list of questions they want Republic Services to answer so they can provide an update to the County Commission on Feb. 14.
Some of the most common issues include missed garbage service; missed recycling pickups; trucks not coming until late in the day, leaving neighborhoods looking unkempt; garbage being picked up on one side of the street and not the other, and a variety of billing problems.
Some customers have asked about credits for missed service. Others wonder how Republic is going to keep track of who gets service and who does not in the nonmandatory pickup areas of the county.
Randy Canal, business unit manager for Republic, acknowledged that the start-up has been rocky and that issues are still arising.
The company faced a double whammy, which set it back from the beginning, Canal said.
Republic didn't get letters out to residents to tell them details of the new service before it began, so many didn't know their service and pickup days had changed. And because the company did not receive customer lists from the previous haulers, Republic had to bill virtually every property owner in unincorporated Hernando County for service, whether they wanted it or not.
One by one, Republic is working out the issues, Canal said.
"I'm very pleased about how far we've come, given the circumstances,'' he said.
Early in the month, thousands of calls swamped phone lines and frustrated customers. Initially, the company had to farm customer service phone calls to offices outside the area, but the reduced volume of calls can now be handled locally, Canal said.
That means each individual concern is getting addressed more quickly. But there still are plenty of individual concerns.
For example, since the company used property owner information from the Property Appraiser's Office, and information for people such as law enforcement and judicial services employees is exempt from public records laws, Republic didn't know to pick up garbage at those homes and send them bills.
As weeks pass, drivers are better learning their routes, Canal said, averting some of the miscommunication at the start that kept portions of neighborhoods from receiving service.
In some cases, the kinds of vehicles serving portions of the county have had to be adjusted because of narrow or difficult-to-navigate roads.
Some of the problems have been with customers who don't put their garbage out early enough or leave it out late enough, Canal said. Everyone has been asked to put trash out by 6 a.m. and leave it there for the drivers to pick up.
In many cases, the times for pickups have changed from previous haulers, he said. Some people have complained that by midday their trash is still sitting out, but they may not be scheduled for service until the afternoon.
"This is a part of the education process,'' Canal said, noting that pickup times can also change if a truck breaks down or a driver calls in sick.
Customers asking why only one side of a street is picked up may not know that the company's policy is for haulers to work one side of the street, then the other, so workers aren't crossing the street, he said.
Republic Services is also trying to work through the billing issues.
Some problems — removing a mistaken new customer fee from a bill, for example — can be resolved easily, but others cannot. In some cases, the previous hauling firms billed customers for service in 2012, even though they knew they were not going to receive the Hernando franchise. That is something customers must take up with their old provider.
Because of the multitude of problems with the start-up, Republic has been picking up all garbage left by the curb, whether or not residents have paid, and the company has not enforced its payment deadline policy. As the company establishes its actual customer list in the coming weeks, drivers will be given lists of where to pick up on a street and where not.
Canal said the company will also continue to analyze ongoing issues from customer calls and address each on a case-by-case basis.
He said he is grateful for the help Republic has received from county officials as the company has grappled with the issues affecting service.
"We appreciate all the patience they have had with our start-up,'' Canal said. "Each day is another day we're improving.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.