DICKINSON

With mounting resident complaints about erratic garbage pickup, the city of Dickinson this month will seek bids for a new trash hauling contract.

“They’re missing a lot of routes,” City Administrator Chris Heard said about Republic Services. “It’s an exclusive franchise agreement and we’re in the process of getting bids so we have a service provider when the contract is up.”

Republic Services, however, argues it’s servicing all accounts but those that have not paid their bills. In a statement, Republic said it had worked with the city to correct an ongoing problem of unpaid bills, had informed the city June 19 it would suspend services on accounts closed for non-payment and had notified those customers and set up a direct phone line to re-establish service.

“We are continuing to work with the city and county to resolve this matter as quickly as possible and remain committed to serving this community,” Republic’s statement said. It is unclear what role the county played in the situation.

Republic did not respond to a request for a company representative to answer questions for this article.

A call for bids will go out this month and the existing contract ends in March 2020, Heard said. Republic can put in a bid as can any provider of garbage pickup services.

In the meantime, on some Dickinson streets the trash continues to pile up, according to residents. Social media sites are littered with shots of overflowing trash bins on curbs throughout the town of a little under 19,000.

The agreement between Republic and the city is unusual because residents are expected to pay their $18 a month service fee directly to Republic, Heard said.

“Normally, the municipality pays the provider and customers pay the municipality,” he said.

In Dickinson, the city’s Water Control and Improvement District pulled out of a contract combining garbage and water bills when Republic became the city’s trash collection contractor in 2014, Heard said.

Delinquent payments had been a problem since the district stopped billing for trash service on water bills, Heard said.

Heard said he didn’t know how much money Republic claimed it had not been able to collect and the company didn’t respond to a request for that number.

“My guess is that a company that size has its own collections department and has the ability to go after delinquent payments,” Heard said.

The city has no ability to collect unpaid bills on behalf of Republic, under the contract, but was approached by Republic for permission to mark containers of unpaid customers to distinguish them from paying customers, Heard said. The city agreed to that, he said.

The city also has no leverage to demand better service from the company, beyond the basic terms of its contract, because of the exclusive franchise agreement, Heard said.

“If it was set up under a normal franchise agreement where the city pays $20,000 or $30,000 or $40,000 per month, and we collect that from our citizens, if the provider has a bad month I can call and say, ‘Hey, I’m not paying my bill’ and that compels them to act. We don’t have that ability,” Heard said.

Some Dickinson residents complained that their trash was not being picked up regularly in May and at least one of them, Byron Atkins of the Bayou Homes neighborhood, said his service has improved since then.

But recent complaints indicate that while everyone understands some customers don’t pay their bills, Republic has failed to pick up trash at residences of paying customers as well, which would be a breach of its contract with the city, Heard said.

The city can only look ahead and open up bids to other service providers in hopes of securing one by January, in anticipation of Republic’s contract ending, Heard said.

“I can’t say what the billing process will be then,” Heard said. “But customers will see substantial changes in the way trash is collected and picked up.”

Uncollected trash can quickly become a public safety and health hazard in the heat of summer, when rotting garbage attracts insects, breeds bacteria and pollutes the air with its stench.

But the city is in a Catch-22 when it comes to pursuing code enforcement violations, the avenue through which complaints about leaving trash to rot would fall, Heard said.

“Under the existing circumstances, that’s adding insult to injury,” he said. “One of my issues at this point is I can’t tell straight out who I should go after. Is it the non-payers who cause the trash to not be picked up or is it Republic who won’t pick it up in a timely manner?

“Until they can do a good 30 days and not miss anything they’re supposed to pick up, after that we can have a conversation about delinquencies.”

Atkins worked out his problems with the company by establishing a relationship with a supervisor, he said.

“The supervisor told me that Republic did carry around a list of people not paying their bills and refused to pick up the trash of those on the list,” Atkins said. “But he said the list was not accurate entirely and a lot of people who did pay their bills didn’t get picked up.”

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257; kathryn.eastburn@galvnews.com.

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(6) comments

Michelle Aycoth

I have never seen a city that did not combine the trash pickup with the water bill.

Boneheaded move by the city.

Andrew Aycoth

Nancy Polk

Best thing La Marque did was get rid of Republic. Went through months of terrible service and the city paid the bill. Can’t imagine entering into such an agreement as Dickinson has. Must be a nightmare.

Randy Chapman

So, what this boils down to is customers not paying their bills and still expecting trash service? I'm sure there are some that are getting caught in the jumble, but for the most part, it seems Dickinson has a lot of freeloaders that got something free and are now upset that it has ended. The City should modify the contract to combine the bills and go after the freeloaders and shut off their water for nonpay. I bet that would quickly solve the issue.

PS Robbins

Bullseye

Wayne Holt

Actually, not a bullseye. We had our residential container service downtown with Republic cut off and one of our containers removed because Republic's records were so screwed up they were sending notices to someone we never heard of...in Dickinson. It took several weeks to straighten it out and our "account representative" was completely MIA; we had to do all the legwork. We finally got lucky with a group of Republic service reps in their Phoenix office who helped a lot but as far as Houston/Galveston, the phone was never picked up. You shouldn't have to hold a company's hand while they try to figure out how they blew it so badly. This story does not surprise me at all.

Toni Dorbin

I moved in at the end of December, have always paid my bill and have called at least 15 times because trash and or recycle is not picked up. the home we bought already had trash cans and recycle cans but Republic delivered one more of each and charged $50. I have spoke to customer service and she seems to think the problem is that they are understaffed and not able to keep help.

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