Lee Ostlie is no big fan of Republic Services, the company that took over countywide garbage collection on Jan. 1.
In an email to the county March 1, the Spring Hill resident described a litany of problems, from missed trash pickups to inconsistent pickup times. "Personally, their service is the absolute pits and I would fire them in a heartbeat,'' Ostlie wrote.
Then late last week came the icing on the cake.
"This week they ran over and smashed my trash can lid to a pancake,'' stated Ostlie's latest email.
While Ostlie is not the only complainer still unhappy with the service, the list of disgruntled customers is getting shorter. The county's community relations coordinator, Brenda Frazier, found herself marveling that she had had no garbage calls by the middle of last week.
Then Thursday came and she had three in a row.
"We still have more work to do,'' Randy Canal, the business unit manager for Republic Services, acknowledged Friday. "Even though our complaint calls are down from before, I will not be satisfied until we don't have any complaint calls.''
In the meantime, Republic continues to implement other aspects of the service.
Soon, county residents will be getting their next billing letter from the company, and Republic Services will again remind customers about their once-every-other-week yard waste schedule. That has been an issue with some customers, Canal said.
The company has also begun to deliver recycling bins to the 300 customers who have asked for the service and who live outside the limits of the mandatory pickup zone in Spring Hill that has had curbside recycling for years.
Since the company's startup in January, which included considerable uncollected and scattered trash across neighborhoods, thousands of phone calls have crashed Republic's customer service lines.
Some of the complaints were related to the company's decision to bill everyone for the service, whether they wanted it or not. The companies that previously held garbage franchises did not provide their customer lists to Republic.
Consequently, Republic has been providing free trash pickup for everyone, including approximately 18,000 people who likely won't pay to keep the service. After the round of bills slated to go out to customers March 17, Canal said, the company will have an operating list of who is a customer and who isn't.
A non-paying customer list will be generated, and service will end in early May for those who don't pay, according to Republic officials.
Workers will also soon begin tagging trash left at the curb but not picked up to make sure the homeowner understands the rules, including regulations for how to bind up yard trash.
Up until now, Canal said, the company has been picking up everything, even if it was more than the allowable amount or packaged incorrectly.
Now it is time for everyone to begin following the rules, he said.
Even as Republic continues to work out startup kinks, company officials are out in the community talking about some issues that should make garbage collection more efficient in the future.
Former county Commissioner Diane Rowden has been setting up meetings in various subdivisions to talk about recycling and automated garbage collection, Canal said.
Automated collection is the future of garbage hauling, he said. Customers in areas with the automated service are given trash cans that can be picked up by a robotic arm and dumped into the truck's bin, he said.
"We're trying to target large groups like homeowners associations'' to talk about the efficiency of the system, Canal said. If the company can get 100 percent buy-in from a group of 1,000 residents or more, Republic can buy the lidded trash cans in bulk and begin to provide the automated service.
The service, he said, makes the community look "much cleaner'' because instead of random bags of garbage lying along curbs, every house would have a standard company-issued garbage can.
"This is the way to go, really,'' Canal said.
Republic Services is also talking about having the county go to a single-stream recycling service in the future, which would mean that all recyclables would go into the same bin.
Currently, the county is in the second year of a five-year contract with SP Recycling Corp., which has a recycling system that requires recyclables to be separated by type.
County Commissioner John Druzbick recently met with Republic Services officials to talk about some of the ongoing customer issues. While he said he is somewhat discouraged that the startup has been so rocky, he said he has seen improvement.
And he likes what he has heard about the company's pitch for single-stream recycling and automated service.
Druzbick said he's glad to see the company visiting individual communities and pitching the programs so residents can decide whether they want them.
If they do, he predicted, "you'll see a much more efficient program than we have now.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.