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.”