TAMPA — A split Hillsborough County Commission said Wednesday it shouldn’t let a waste hauler, plagued by complaints of poor service earlier this year, escape without another written warning.
A trio of commissioners, however, said doing so was simply piling on Waste Connections of Florida after the company had satisfied earlier concerns about missed trash pick-ups.
“I don’t think another sanction is warranted at this point given that they have really gone to great lengths and great expense to serve their customers,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith.
But Smith, along with Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp and Commissioner Kimberly Overman, were in the minority.
At issue was a staff report, requested by Commissioner Gwen Myers, on how to debar a company from doing future business with Hillsborough County. The target of her request was Waste Connections, currently serving 133,000 customers in the northwest and southern portions of 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.,
The company failed to complete 393 routes and missed pick-ups at more than 458,000 homes between June 1 and July 23, triggering between 650 and 1,000 telephone calls and 840 email complaints each day, the county said.
Waste Connections said the lost contract meant it got squeezed by an already tight labor market, when employees began leaving for long-term job security elsewhere. After receiving notice from County Administrator Bonnie Wise that it had 30 days to fix its shortcomings and fulfill its contractual obligations, the company said it committed $3 million to: Bring company employees from out of state to fill the local vacancies; offer $5,000 retention bonuses for 200 employees; increase hourly wage increases to front-line workers and pay weekly bonuses to supervisors.
Since then, the company’s service has been satisfactory, said Scott Stromer, county procurement director.
Debarring the company when its contract is close to expiring and it isn’t part of the new eight-year franchise agreements wasn’t realistic, Myers acknowledged. However, she still sought a letter from commissioners putting their concerns on record and telling Waste Connections its performance was still being monitored.
“I’m afraid that if we don’t put ourselves on record on this, if we don’t at least write something, this whole incident could get lost,” Commissioner Harry Cohen said in agreement.
Eventually, Myers, Cohen and Commissioners Stacy White and Ken Hagan voted to have its procurement department draft the letter for commissioners’ review.
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The company said it planned to continue its current operations.
“Everyone included in (Wednesday’s) discussion recognized that we have remedied the issues caused by the uncontrollable events that we encountered, particularly earlier in the summer,” said Waste Connections spokesman Kurt Salac. “We will continue to do our best to diligently service the residents of Hillsborough County through our contract term.”