BROOKSVILLE — The phones are ringing off the hook again at Republic Services, the county's new garbage hauler.
In recent days, the hauler has been placing special stickers on the garbage cans of 16,000 residents who have not paid their bills, informing them that their free service is ending.
Up until now, the hauler, which took over countywide garbage collection in January, has been providing service to everyone as it built a customer list from scratch. Now the company has cut off those who haven't paid, prompting a flood of phone calls, reminiscent of the weeks of angry calls when Republic first took over the service.
County commissioners have been hearing about the ruckus, too. Commissioner Jim Adkins on Tuesday asked county staffers to bring representatives of Republic Services to the May 22 commission meeting to answer questions.
Phone calls peaked at about 1,900 one day last week, according to Republic Services business unit manager Randy Canal. The volume this week has been between 500 and 600 a day. The company has had to bring in extra workers and use customer service representatives from other states to handle the large number of calls.
Some of the calls have been from people who want to pay their bills. But many have been from unhappy residents who say they have never paid for garbage service or who do not want garbage service, even though they live in the mandatory pickup zone in Spring Hill.
Canal said there is some thought that of the 40,000 properties in the mandatory zone, the previous hauler may not have billed as many as 5,000 of them.
Other callers say they have paid their bills, but their trash is still not being collected. And some continue to have issues with missed pickups, entire neighborhoods being missed, or the day or time of their garbage, recycling and yard waste collections, according to Canal and the county's community relations coordinator, Brenda Frazier.
Canal said he has a solution he has been discussing with county officials: If the county were to bill for garbage collection on annual property tax bills, the questions and confusion when quarterly bills go out would be eliminated, he said.
"We're hoping that the county will move forward with that,'' Canal said. "They can really fix this pretty quickly, and it's a benefit to everybody because you don't have a billing issue and you're not going to have the rash of calls every quarter.''
Ultimately, it would help if all property owners were billed for garbage collection, eliminating trash dumping and burn barrels, he said. But in a referendum two years ago, Hernando voters overwhelmingly rejected countywide garbage collection.
While Canal is pushing for the change in billing, Frazier said she is hearing that some people who live in the mandatory garbage collection zone in Spring Hill are pushing to end mandatory collection, saying they think it is illegal or unconstitutional. They say they take their garbage to the county's convenience centers and do not want to pay for curbside service.
As of Wednesday, there were still 9,000 residents who had not paid their bills, Canal said.
He noted that the county is in the process of better defining the eastern edge of the mandatory collection zone and that Republic Services intends to "work with the county to find ways to streamline the service and make it better.''
He said Republic also will continue to work toward including collection charges on tax bills, establish automated pickup zones in communities across the county and work toward a single-stream recycling system.
"It's all a work in progress,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.