TAMPA — On a party-line vote, the Hillsborough Commission majority agreed to increase trash assessments for the coming year and said rejecting the 22 percent jump would be irresponsible and could lead to no curbside garbage service after Jan. 31.
The debate on the rate increase came two months after the board approved new contracts, totaling $589 million, with three haulers to provide trash collection service in the county until 2030. The three successful bidders were Republic Services of Florida, Waste Management Inc., of Florida and Fomento De Construcciones Y Contratas, Inc (FCC).
Notably absent from the trio was Waste Connections of Florida, currently serving 133,000 customers in the county. Its service was plagued by missed pickups for June and most of July after it didn’t land one of the three new franchise agreements effective Feb. 1, 2022.
Waste Connections failed to complete 393 routes and missed pick-ups at more than 458,000 homes between June 1 and July 23, according to a report to commissioners. The county is assessing penalties of more than $600,000. Waste Connections is disputing some of the numbers and penalties, the report said.
The service interruptions left the county to answer customer complaints that totaled between 650 and 1,000 telephone calls and 840 emails each day, according to the report.
Waste Connections acknowledged it faced a labor shortage after employees seeking long-term security left the company because they knew the contract with the county would end in seven months. The company has offered retention bonuses and other financial incentives to its employees and brought in out-of-state workers to fill vacancies.
Commissioner Ken Hagan cited the company’s poor service for voting against the rate increase. Fellow Republican Stacy White also rejected the increase, suggesting dollars from the federal American Recovery Act be used to supplement the county’s solid waste budget and delay a rate increase.
The new hauler contracts will be financed by rates that will go up $63.47 on Oct. 1. That is a 22 percent increase for the combined collection and disposal assessments for single-family residential customers.
The increase drew negative comments in 53 emails and from a half-dozen speakers who addressed commissioners Wednesday.
State Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Valrico, said the financial penalties assessed by the county against Waste Connections should be applied to the rate increase or returned to the public. He also said the county should consider providing trash-hauling services itself rather than hiring private vendors.
“Our service has been very spotty and left a lot to be desired,” he told commissioners.
It was a familiar theme of the public commentary. But the five Democrats on the commission defended the rate increase.
“While the timing may appear inconvenient or inconsistent, in fact this contract is what moves us forward away from the poor service provider,” said Commissioner Harry Cohen. “... I believe if we don’t go forward with this, we really run the risk of not having service for our customers come January. And if people think the missed routes that we’ve experienced were bad, let’s not actually try out what it’s like when the entire system collapses.”
To help low-income families, the commission also created a hardship program to reduce the assessments by $60 annually. About 3,610 residences could be eligible for a credit, costing the county about $216,660 annually.
Solid Waste Director Kimberly Byer said rate increases likely will be proposed for 2023, too, since the just-approved increases only cover the first eight months of the new contracts between Jan. 31 and Sept., 30, 2022.