A Fort Wayne city councilman asked Mayor Tom Henry's administration Friday to hire an emergency trash collection service provider to address ongoing issues with Red River Waste Solutions.
The request was among four action points Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, presented at a morning news conference. Jehl said the action points are based on the solid waste contingency plan that was presented to the Solid Waste Advisory Council, of which he is a member, but has not been enacted.
“Frankly, we should not be bashful but rather united in saying Red River has long overstayed its welcome in Fort Wayne,” Jehl said.
Red River took over the city's trash and recycling collection services at the start of 2018, and the service has been poor throughout the contract, Jehl said. Red River filed for Chapter 11 reorganizational bankruptcy in October, which provides the Texas-based company protections.
The city announced Tuesday that Red River trash pickups are running about two days behind because a third of its drivers are sick. Jehl, who said less than half of the city's trash is being collected on time, asked publicly Tuesday evening for an update on the city's plan for the ongoing issues at the next council meeting.
Jehl on Friday shared specific action points he wants from the city's presentation, which include giving a substantive update to the public, proactively reaching out to encourage Red River's workers to stay and creating an accurate list of missed pickups.
The largest request is to immediately hire a trash collection service provider by activating the emergency services clause in Red River's contract. That would allow a third-party provider, Jehl said, to reduce the missed collections and could be retained indefinitely.
“That, in the contract, is basically a blank check for the city,” Jehl said. “We can keep track of all of the costs associated with bringing in a third party and we can entirely deduct 100% of those costs performed to Red River. There is absolutely no excuse – in any way, shape or form – for garbage to be sitting at the curb for any more than a week.”
John Perlich, mayoral spokesman, said in an email Friday that collections were still delayed up to two days, but the city is “hopeful that doesn't last too much longer.”
However, Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, said some people – such as Councilman Glynn Hines, D-at large – have been waiting a couple of weeks to have their trash removed.
The council members, Didier said, are in frustrating positions because they don't know much more about the city's plans than residents do. Didier, who announced last year he is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2023 mayoral election, said his trash collection was three days late as of Friday.
“I'm just being transparent and up front. I don't know the answers,” he said. “If I had the answers, I would give them to you verbatim.”
Perlich said the city has been transparent, including through formal updates released Dec. 24 and Jan. 11. As the service continually worsens, Jehl said, “the public needs hope that cannot come from a press release.”
The general public, Jehl said, grows cynical the longer trash isn't collected without an explanation for how the city plans to move forward.
“The city has asked for patience, and patience should be afforded by the constituents if we are doing everything we can, and we're not,” Jehl said. “I'm going to go beyond just complaining that we aren't doing what we need to do. I'm pointing out exactly what we should be doing, and that's hiring another service provider and leveling with the public.”
Perlich said the city has recently looked into hiring an emergency provider, and it is a difficult task.
“Other local/regional/national haulers are experiencing illnesses and labor issues as well and aren't in position to send the number of drivers and trucks that would be needed to be the lead provider in an emergency situation,” he said.
The city currently has six trucks running trash collection routes to help out Red River's drivers. Perlich said trash will be collected through the weekend and on the city-observed holiday – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – on Monday.