The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 17, 2018 1:00 am

Council seeks answers for trash pickup

Wants mayor to appear at meeting

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

Red River Waste Solutions likely missed hundreds of customers between April and May, prompting the $65,000 in fines, Fort Wayne city officials announced last week.

According to a Journal Gazette review of the $5 million contract approved last year by the Fort Wayne City Council, Red River may only miss 1 in every 1,000 households per week. Any more than that can result in a $100 penalty for each missed household. Additionally, if the company does not correct the mistake by 5 p.m. the next day, the city can assess an additional $50 fine for each occurrence. 

Similarly, if a resident is missed more than twice in a three-month period, Red River would incur another $100 fine for each missed collection and if an entire street or addition is missed more than once in a three-month period, Red River could be fined $100 for each house missed. 

Red River was fined $15,000 for April and $50,000 for May. Any combination of the benchmarks outlined in the contract could have contributed to the fines levied.

The Texas firm took over for Republic Services on Jan. 2. Republic handled Fort Wayne's garbage collection for 20 years but lost the contract to Red River after increasing its prices for the new contract.

Republic Services was fined a total of about $98,000 in 2017 for missed benchmarks, Public Works spokesman Frank Suarez said Friday.

Two telephone messages left at Red River's Fort Wayne office seeking comment Friday were not immediately returned. 

A bid sheet included with the contract approval shows five companies bid on the city's contract last year. Those companies were Advanced Disposal; Borden Waste-Away Services Inc.; Fcc, S.A.; Red River Waste Solutions; and Republic Services.

Red River was the lowest bidder at $4.70 per single-family dwelling per collection, followed by Fcc, S.A. at $5.07. Republic Services, the city's longtime former garbage collection service, bid $5.50 per single-family home. 

Fort Wayne residents aren't the first to have complaints about Red River's service. In January 2017, trash went uncollected in Nashville, Tennessee, during the holiday season. At that time, residents were told cold, snow and increased holiday trash volume slowed trucks down. 

In February 2016, officials in Jackson, Tennessee, opted to go with Waste Management over Red River, even though Red River's bid came in $3.2 million lower. Members of the Jackson City Council were reportedly wary that the number Red River provided was unrealistic and skeptical that the firm would be able to perform the job as expected.  

While the consensus is that monetary penalties are an incentive for improvement, the Fort Wayne City Council is clear that they are not a solution. In an op-ed column in today's edition of The Journal Gazette, the entire council expressed displeasure at Red River's apparent inability to handle the workload. The column also clearly hangs responsibility for the selection of Red River on the city's Public Works Department. 

“The Fort Wayne City Council did not select Red River. Council approved a contract that was brought to us and recommended for acceptance to us, by the Division of Public Works, a department of Fort Wayne city government,” the editorial states. “Council trusted that all appropriate due diligence had been done in vetting this company.” 

The councilmen's column paints a picture of elected representatives beset by constituent complaints. 

“Council was assured that after a brief learning curve, this new company would meet or exceed the previous company's performance. It's now been six months,” the column states. “With the exception of a short reprieve in the spring, the service has not gotten better, it's steadily gotten worse, culminating in several instances of entire neighborhoods getting missed repeatedly, streets too numerous to count being missed many times and individuals being missed at random, while neighbors are collected. It's actually quite baffling.”

The op-ed concludes by asking everyone involved in the decision to hire Red River – including Mayor Tom Henry – to appear before the council Tuesday.

It's unclear what recourse the city has, should Red River continue to fail to live up to expectations. But the contract does shed light on available options. 

For example, disputes between Red River and the city must enter into a 30-day negotiation period, after which, if Red River continues to fail to perform its duties satisfactorily, the Board of Public Works can terminate the contract.

The city has to provide the company 15 days' notice, “in order for contractor to have the opportunity to rectify or cure the problem,” the contract states. 

Additionally, if Red River does not collect the garbage in an area for seven working days, the city can hire a third party or have its own employees collect the trash at Red River's expense.

According to the contract, if city employees are used, Red River would be charged $100 per hour per employee, with a one-hour minimum charge. 

It was unclear Friday whether the city has employees who would be able to handle that work.

If you go

Fort Wayne City Council: Red River Hearing

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Date: Tuesday

Place: City Council Chambers, Garden Level, Citizens Square,

200 E. Berry St.

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