Republic Services, the second largest waste disposal and recycling company in the country, which serves much of Guilford County and some of its towns, is now on a short leash with Guilford County – but, due to a lack of options for the county, Republic may not be at the end of its rope.
In recent weeks, the franchise agreement that allows the company to operate in Guilford County has been under review in closed session discussions of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, and several commissioners said this week that Republic hasn’t cleaned up its act despite promises to do so.
The Town of Summerfield, after a string of complaints, has posted a notice on the town’s website acknowledging that the service has been “dismal” and asking Republic’s customers in Summerfield to provide feedback to the town.
Republic Services gets the right to provide service in Guilford County through a franchise agreement with the county. In that agreement, the county grants the company a license to operate for 10 years in Guilford County. That license is not exclusive – it doesn’t prevent the county from giving another waste company a similar license – so nothing prevents the county from issuing another license to another company and opening up trash collection to competition. However, other companies are less likely to come in and provide the service if Republic is also operating.
In February, Guilford County commissioners spoke openly at a meeting about all the complaints they had been getting related to the service and, at that time, Republic officials promised to make major changes that would improve the situation including a restructuring of routes, the purchase of new vehicles and equipment, new schedules and more managerial oversight – all moves meant to make the service more reliable and more efficient. Company officials stated that it would take some time for the kinks to be worked out during the transition – but June is here and the county is still getting a large number of complaints.
County residents who contract with Republic Services to remove trash complain that the company has been missing scheduled pickups. They say it’s been an ongoing issue that’s led to rodent problems, road debris and trash piling up at homes and businesses.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said he’s still getting way too many complaints even after the supposed improvements were put in place earlier this year.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Branson said of the complaints. “It’s tremendously frustrating.”
One grievance is that customers have a hard time getting in touch with the company and Branson said he has now started giving those who have service problems the cell phone numbers of top Republic executives. Branson said that way at least the complaints can go “straight to the jugular.”
Branson said that, as long as he’s getting complaints on his personal phone, company executives should as well.
“If they can aggravate me, I can aggravate them,” Branson said.
He said one of the most frustrating things is trying to help citizens when pleas to the company seem to fall on deaf ears.
Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips said Guilford County is examining options and said he is certainly very cognizant of the complaints and discontent out there. However, Phillips added, Guilford County needs to be sure it doesn’t make the situation worse when trying to fix it.
“My thinking is that we need to proceed with caution,” Phillips said. “If we make a wholesale, system-wide change, it could be worse.”
Phillips also said a change in providers might mean much higher prices for the service. He said all these factors are considerations as the county tries to find a solution for what’s been a very recalcitrant problem.
Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston said the county had “put Republic on notice” regarding its discontent with the service, but, like Phillips, Alston said he wanted to make sure the cure isn’t worse the than the problem.
“We do have a franchise agreement,” Alston said, “but the question is, can the other vendors handle it.”
Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker said Summerfield had gotten a lot of complaints about the service and the town is now exploring alternatives. Whitaker said Summerfield formally notified the waste company that the town is exercising a clause in the contract that gives the company 15 days to respond in writing to concerns and 30 days to make the necessary changes to address the widespread service deficiencies.
“As many have experienced,” the town’s posted notice reads, “Republic’s recent service has been dismal. Earlier this week, the town formally notified Republic that its performance isn’t acceptable (service delivery and customer service). … They have already begun to initiate changes and we hope residents see a quick turnaround. Please let town hall know if service is improving in the days ahead.”
Commissioner Hank Henning said he just wants the issue to be resolved so county citizens can have reliable trash service.
“Either it’s fixed or it’s not fixed – and it’s not fixed,” Henning said. “I couldn’t blame Summerfield at all for wanting out of it.”
In early February, Republic sent a letter to county officials acknowledging that, in some areas of Guilford County, “our recycling and waste collections have not been what we would like or expect them to be,” and that one factor was “recent rapid and unexpected volume growth.” That letter stated that the company “sincerely apologizes” for the problems and it is hiring new drivers, increasing routes and making other changes to improve the situation.
However, that was four months ago and county officials say the problems persist in a big way.
Republic Services, which operates in 41 states and Puerto Rico, was established in 1996 and grew to become the country’s second largest provider of non-hazardous waste removal. In addition to waste and recycling pickup, the company has over 200 transfer stations and 193 active landfills. It also has 67 recycling centers, 12 saltwater disposal wells, and 69 landfill gas and renewable energy projects in operation.
The promotional materials for the company’s webpage state, “Our customers come first,” and lists a “99.9 percent pickup reliability rate.” A footnote explains that the stat is “based on missed pickup data for commercial and residential customers from Jan. 2013 to Jan. 2015.” Those stats don’t seem to be holding up for Guilford County customers in 2018.