Earlier this year, Republic Services attributed part of its rocky start to providing countywide garbage collection service to its predecessors who declined to share client lists.
It meant the company billed property owners for service whether they wanted it or not and Republic ended up providing several months of free trash pickup to an estimated 18,000 people before it could produce a list of those who declined to become paying customers. By spring, however, the company said it had worked out the kinks and suggested it was time for everyone to start following the rules.
Everyone but Republic, that is. The company can blame no one but itself for its latest gaffe of incorrectly billing customers for an unapproved rate increase. As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt reported, the county clamped down on the improper billing and told the company to adjust its accounts accordingly.
Republic is allowed price increases based on economic indicators like the Consumer Price Index that are measured against the previous contract year. But the company has held the exclusive contract to provide service in Hernando County only since Jan. 1. No price increase can be considered then until 2013. Instead, the company mailed fourth-quarter bills that customers said included higher rates of 18 cents a month. It is a modest sum individually and still saves residents money compared to the costs billed by the prior franchise-holders. Still, the added price quickly fattens the company's bottom line when multiplied by the tens of thousands of customers across the county.
Republic has worked hard to iron out service and billing complaints that dominated its takeover of the countywide franchise this year. And, it is now seeking to provide automated garbage service, in which trucks with robotic arms dump lidded trash cans into bins. Such service boosts efficiency for the company and beautification for homeowners who don't have to contend with plastic garbage bags at the curb. More importantly, the company eventually wants to bolster recycling by urging the county to consider a single-stream system in which customers do not have to separate plastic, paper and other products at curbside.
Those are positive steps, but Republic undermines its credibility by billing customers for a premature price increase. The company is scheduled to meet with the county later this week to try to resolve the issue. The resolution is simple: Republic can better serve Hernando County residents by boosting service before boosting the price.