Waste Connections of Florida., the trash hauler serving more than a third of Hillsborough County, missed nearly 263,000 curbside pick-ups in June and mid-July.
In some neighborhoods, service was a day late. In others, people said they were skipped for a full week. In total, 246 routes weren’t completed in the seven-week period ending July 15.
The county told the company, which serves the northwest and south county zones, it had breached its contractual obligations. A violation letter to Waste Connections said it faced a fine of nearly $210,000 and had 30 days to correct its operations.
”Failure to collect trash is unacceptable to us and we will not tolerate continued service deficiencies,” County Administrator Bonnie Wise said in a July 23 memo to commissioners.
It also comes at an inopportune time for political reasons. While trash piled up at the curb, residents received notices in the mail about a rate increase.
“We have a proposed solid waste increase at the same time we’ve had the worst service in the history of the contract. I’ve got significant concerns,” said Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan.
He isn’t alone.
“I’m not happy about it. It’s the worst timing ever,” said Noelle Licor of Ruskin, who sits on the county’s Citizens Advisory Committee.
Next week, the commission will consider increasing the annual trash assessments and disposal fees by $63.47, effective Oct. 1. It is nearly a 22 percent increase over the current assessments of just less than $290.
“It’s the same issue as last time,” said Ken Weber of North Forest Hills. “Raising the rates at the same time service is deteriorating. It’s kind of concerning.”
A year ago, the commission approved a $55 increase in homeowners’ assessments, a 23 percent jump in residential trash collection costs. It, too, came amid reduced service as Waste Connections suspended curbside recycling pick-ups temporarily amid a driver shortage triggered by COVID-19.
This year, Waste Connections, which has 136,000 customers in the county, has a bigger challenge. It’s a lame duck. The company lost out in bidding for one of the county’s seven-year franchise agreements that were approved June 2 and become effective at the end of January 2022.
The new deals, worth $589 million, are with Republic Services of Florida in northwest Hillsborough, Waste Management Inc., of Florida for the central zone and Fomento De Construcciones Y Contratas, Inc (FCC) in the south-central county.
Waste Connections acknowledged the lost contract meant it got squeezed by an already tight labor market, when employees began leaving for long-term job security elsewhere.
To meet its contractual obligations to the county and restore full service to residents, Waste Connections said it already embarked on a $3 million spending spree, part of which is covering the cost of bringing company employees from out of state to fill the local vacancies. It also is offering: $5,000 retention bonuses for 200 employees after the current contract expires in January; $2-per-hour wage increases to front-line hourly employees; $125 weekly bonuses to supervisory employees; and job fairs for employees who will be displaced.
Tuesday morning, Waste Connection workers attended meet-and-greet sessions with the three haulers that won the franchise agreements. The company outlined its strategy in a letter provided to the Tampa Bay Times that it also plans to mail to its customers.
Meanwhile, the county also allowed Waste Connections a one-time “restart,” in which it was excused from its obligation to pick-up trash the day after a service miss, which Wise said had caused the company to fall further behind. At the end of last week, the company reported to the county it had completed all of its routes.
Just in case, the county is preparing contingency plans that could include: Starting the new franchise agreements earlier than Jan. 31; seeking help from the cities of Tampa and Plant City, which operate their own collection services; or hiring debris and trash collectors on an emergency basis.