Waste Management officials apologize, explain trash woes in Oak Ridge North
It’s been a tumultuous three months for trash pickup in the city of Oak Ridge North, where missed garbage and bulk service days have some residents feeling like they’ve been left holding the bag.
Officials with Waste Management-the garbage collection service provider for the Oak Ridge North’s nearly 3,000 residents-recently sent the mayor and City Council a letter of apology “for the increase in services issues” that has occurred in recent months due to a change in October that caused rates for roughly 30 percent of serviced residents to increase.
Following the change in service, residents took to social media using Nextdoor and Facebook to vent their frustrations.
But Oak Ridge North City Manager Vicky Rudy doesn’t blame Waste Management or the residents, and she said the problem is two-fold.
“We have a new contract with new guidelines,” she said, referring to the October service adjustment. “The change means the residents have to make a change to meet the guidelines. Change is hard.”
Waste Management switched to automated trucks and sent in new drivers, Rudy said, adding that the company has been the service provider for garbage collection for several years.
“You have learning happening on both sides,” she said. “That is the crux of the whole problem.”
Rudy spent a Saturday following a Waste Management garbage truck just to see where it was going and to learn the process.
“The truck I followed picked up everything,” she told City Council members at the Jan. 8 meeting, referring to one of the newer automated trucks.
But that hasn’t always been the case recently.
According to Rudy, Waste Management has in some instances failed to pick up trash for residents on some streets during service days. Other times, bags of trash are left on the side of the street, while others are picked up.
Council Member Frances Planchard said some residents have been confused by how garbage is picked up.
“They also-because of the automated truck-they go down one side of the street and go all the way to wherever their route is then come back to the other side because it can only pick up on side of the street,” she said “Just because your neighbor across the street got their trash picked up doesn’t mean that yours is going to be picked up at the very same minute.”
The whole process can take several hours, Planchard said.
Adding to the confusion, the process is different for bulk trucks, which are operated by three people.
Waste Management spokeswoman Lisa Doughty said in an email the company issued an apology to the city to uphold its commitment to “service the communities in an efficient and timely manner.”
“The key for us is to address the issues quickly and get back to what we do best-servicing our customers,” Doughty said.
In the apology letter sent to city officials, company representatives said the firm had prepared an “action plan” to address the confusion and the company would strive to provide a “consistent service standard” by adding a “premier driver” in the Oak Ridge North community.
The action plan would also require drivers at the end of service days to “call into dispatch and confirm no streets have been missed,” as well as retrain drivers on what should or shouldn’t be picked up, the letter states.
Waste Management has serviced the community of Oak Ridge North since 1995, Doughty said.
Rudy said the rate for trash pickup in Oak Ridge North has been $14 a month for at least 10 years. In October, that rate increased for residents who needed a higher level of service.
“It used to be that you would be able to put the trash can and eight other bags and it would all get picked up,” Rudy said. “Seventy percent of our people are using the same service-one trash can. They didn’t need the extra bags.”
Those 30 percent are the ones who needed the extra services and are having to adjust in some way,” she said. “But we didn’t want to give everyone the higher cost, if they were not using those services.”
Residents needing extra trash cans are asked to pay $5 and $2 per tag for extra garbage bags.
Doughty said it is important to understand that our role is to provide the (city) with various options based on their needs.
“Once we present options, the city always makes the decision that is best for their residents,” Doughty said. “We work together to set a standard service level that fits as many residents needs as possible and offer options for residents that may need or want additional services.”
Rudy said she has seen the social media posts about trash issues, but said that less than 30 official issues have been brought directly to her attention. In every case, she said, Waste Management officials have come back and rectified it within 24 hours.
“It is tough to change something as personal as how your trash is serviced,” Rudy said. “We will weather this out.”
* City officials called for a general election to be conducted on May 5, 2018 for mayor and council positions 1 and 3. The council voted to approve contracting the election with Montgomery County. Mayor James Kuykendall, position 1 Council Member Paul Bond and position 3 Council Member Alex Jones currently hold the three positions. None of the three has officially announced any intentions to seek another term in office or not.
* The city also approved the purchase of 150 additional trash carts and lids at a cost of $11,571.01. The new carts were paid for with commercial franchise fees and “not by citizens” or tax dollars, Rudy said.