The Journal Gazette
Thursday, August 09, 2018 1:00 am

Garbage collector defends progress

Missed pickups dropped in July

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

One day after a Fort Wayne city councilman proposed finding Red River Waste Solutions in substantial breach of its trash and recycling collection contract, figures released by the city show the number of missed collections dropped from June to July.

Red River officials, meanwhile, are disputing Councilman Russ Jehl's comments.

But Jehl, R-2nd, said Wednesday the numbers don't show the kind of rapid improvement that officials from the Texas-based company promised at a City Council hearing in June.

A performance dashboard compiled by the city shows that officials were able to verify that Red River missed 2,551 garbage and recycling collections in July, a decrease of 515 from June. The numbers released by the city are taken from calls to 311 reporting missed collections.

“The benchmark is 500 misses, not 5,000, not 3,000, not 2,500,” Jehl said. “Twenty-five hundred is not rapid improvement.”

Jehl said Tuesday he plans to introduce a resolution to declare Red River in breach of its contract.

Red River took over the solid waste collection contract Jan. 1 from Arizona-based Republic Services, formerly National Serv-All, which held the contract for 20 years. Red River outbid Republic Services for the $5 million contract, which was approved by the City Council in 2017.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Red River vehemently disputed Jehl's claims.

“Red River Waste Solutions is receiving unwarranted negative attention based on allegations from members of Fort Wayne's City Council suggesting the company is in breach of contract,” the statement said. “This type of claim not only damages Red River's reputation but also affects their relationship with the community and their employees.”

In an interview Wednesday, Steve Smith, Red River's vice president of business development/governmental relations, rejected the notion that his company is in substantial breach of its contract.

“At the end of the day, we know what the people of Fort Wayne expect and deserve. We respect their expectations and we'll get there,” Smith said. “But we're nowhere near breach.”

In the statement, Smith claimed the number of missed calls amount to less than 1 percent of total weekly collections.

“The total calls this year are 18,000 (missed collections) out of 3,412,000 collections,” Smith's statement said. “Although it is not where we want to be when all of the routes are tweaked and balanced, it is not as far off as being portrayed.”

Since beginning operations in January, Red River has been dogged by complaints and accusations of missed collections and poor customer service. Residents throughout the city, including several council members, have reported that their homes have been missed.

In January, the company blamed harsh winter weather and increased loads from the holidays. In June, officials said a nationwide driver shortage and increased tonnage from Memorial Day contributed to May's misses.

On Wednesday, company officials accused the city of having no route data to provide Red River when it took over the contract. Because of this, the company claims it implemented “the latest waste industry onboard technology and designed the routing system from scratch.”

“As with any new process, there are limitations at first,” the statement said. “The downside is that it takes time to perfect the process and get employees trained/retrained.”

In April, the company reported 1,391 total garbage and recycling misses. One month later, Red River reported 2,820 total misses. That number increased to 3,066 in June.

Smith acknowledged there have been problems but said he's confident in the improvements that the company has made.

“A job of that scope takes time to tune out, and sometimes it seems like folks think that it might be easier than it is,” Smith said. “We've had some good luck with some of our long-term efforts to recruit and retain quality folks. We're continuing to go down that path, and I'm positive about the results.”

However, Jehl said he believes the numbers released Wednesday show he is “on the right track.” But that's not how Red River sees it.

“Allegations of breach are inflammatory, and these inaccurate or unfair news portrayals have the intention to mislead the residents and employees to distrust the company,” the statement says. “As council members become more willing to express their personal and adverse opinions publicly, Red River finds it more difficult to recruit and retain employees.”

Declaring Red River in breach of its contract is only one step that would have to take place before the city could terminate the contract. Disputes must enter into a 30-day negotiation period, after which the Board of Public Works could terminate the contract if Red River continues to fail to live up to expectations.

The city needs to provide the contractor with 15 days' notice “in order for contractor to have the opportunity to rectify or cure the problem,” the contract states. Also, if Red River fails to collect trash for seven working days, the city can hire a third party or use its own employees to handle the missed collections.

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