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Trash switch leads to unexpected bills for some Hernando residents

Eva Knapp was surprised when she found a bill in her mail this week for garbage collection service by the county's new provider.

She hasn't had garbage service for years.

When she talked to fellow neighbors on Olivet Drive near Ridge Manor, she found they too had received bills from Republic Services (which does business as Seaside Sanitation).

While Knapp said she would probably pay the bill and take the service, her neighbors were adamant that they didn't want or need it. After all, they live directly behind the county's east-side garbage transfer station, where they can dump trash for only an annual fee that all county property owners pay.

Knapp's neighbors aren't the only ones upset by unexpected bills from Republic.

Thistlebrook Lane resident Mary Petrucci blasted off an email to county commissioners Wednesday morning, noting that her notice from the company "makes it seem as though garbage pickup is mandatory.''

Not a customer of any waste hauling company, she wrote, "invoicing people for services not ordered or rendered, I would assume is illegal.''

"Who approved Republic Services to charge the citizens of Hernando County for waste disposal?'' wrote another area resident, Patricia Kevitt. "I know I did not sign up for anything.''

Since Central Carting, the previous company serving all residents east of U.S. 41, refused to give Republic Services its customer list, the only option for Republic was to use the county property appraiser's list of property owners for billing information, whether they had previously gotten the service or not, county officials said Wednesday.

It was the latest of several problems that have occurred since Republic took over collections in all unincorporated areas of Hernando on Jan. 1.

Officials said residents who do not want the service outside of the mandatory collection zone in Spring Hill do not have to take it. But none of that was spelled out in belated notices people began to receive from Republic this week.

The county is advising people who get bills and do not live in the Spring Hill mandatory zone to notify Republic if they do not want the service. They can do so by calling the company's customer service number or returning the bill unpaid with a note that they do not want the service.

The latest development kept phone lines of commissioners and other county officials ringing off the hooks for another day Wednesday. Reportedly, phones also continued to ring at Republic Services. But since many who called their customer service lines couldn't get through, the volume of complaints was unclear.

Brenda Frazier, the county's community relations coordinator, said one resident reported having Republic Services on redial for two hours and could not get through.

Ron Pianta, the interim county administrator, was planning to speak with Republic Services officials Wednesday afternoon to try to force some resolution to the problem of frustrated customers who could not get through to someone on Republic's phone lines.

Some county residents had not had trash collection for several days because mailings by Republic announcing new schedules for pickups hadn't come by the time the new service started Monday.

While the company promised that all county residents would get trash pickups by the end of the day Wednesday and trucks started as early as 4 a.m. to make that happen, some residents were still waiting Wednesday afternoon to see the blue Republic trucks in their neighborhoods.

Their frustrations and anger were shared by county Commissioner Dave Russell, who said he has been answering calls for days.

"There has just been an explosion,'' he said. "It's a nuclear event.''

Russell said Republic officials have a lot to explain to commissioners, and company officials have been summoned to have that discussion at Tuesday's commission meeting.

"They are on the agenda. They've been compelled to be present so we can have this thing out,'' Russell said. "This is completely unacceptable.''

He said that the company, one of the largest trash-hauling outfits in the country, had "plenty of time to put everything together.'' Originally, Republic was to take over garbage collection countywide Oct. 1. But to give the company extra time, the county negotiated extensions with the other two former providers to extend their service through Dec. 31.

"I've heard all the questions, and we're going to get some answers on Tuesday,'' Russell said. "I hope they're prepared to defend their contract because their performance to date is in question.

"If this were my business," he said, "I wouldn't be in business."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com.

For information about the change in county garbage service, visit hernandocounty.us/utils/SolidWaste_Recycling/franchise.htm online. The Republic Services customer service numbers are 1-800-282-9820 and (727) 868-2566. The final public information meeting about the new garbage service is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at the Coast Guard Auxiliary, 4340 Calienta St., Hernando Beach.

Trash switch leads to unexpected bills for some Hernando residents 01/04/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 8:08pm]
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