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Council questions whether trash hauler was properly fined

November 21, 2018

Fort Wayne officials might not be fining their garbage collection agency properly, several City Council members said tonight. 

Revelations about how city officials implement fines for missed collections came during a discussion over a non-binding resolution to offer ratepayers a one-month credit for their troubles with Red River Waste Solutions. The resolution was authored by Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd. 

Council approved the resolution in an 8-1 vote, with Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, as the lone dissenter. 

An email from the city’s solid waste manager - The Journal Gazette obtained the message before Tuesday’s City Council meeting - lays out the exact formula the city uses to assess fines for missed pick-ups. No one from the city administration attended the meeting to discuss Jehl’s proposal. 

A message left with a city spokesman seeking comment was not immediately returned Tuesday night. Mayor Tom Henry has said he would support a credit for ratepayers if one could be secured. His working group on trash collection will meet Nov. 28 and discuss the matter. 

Texas-based Red River took over for Arizona-based Republic Services in January. Almost immediately, city council members and 311 operators were beset with complaints from residents whose trash and recycling had been missed. Missed collections have numbered in the thousands since the contractor took over the contract.

Red River is paid $416,000 a month to collect trash from 83,000 homes each week, Matt Gratz, the solid waste manager, wrote in his email. That amounts to 332,000 pickups over four weeks. Gratz said if 2,000 misses occur, the collection rate is 99.3 percent and the missing 0.7 percent equals a fine of “10 percent of the contracted fee.”

“However, in July 2018, when the verified missed calls were 2,063, Red River was penalized $84,000 in fines, or 20 percent of its fee, because there were other augmented fees (e.g. 24 hour pickup) and benchmarks missed,” Gratz wrote. “In September 2018, when the verified missed calls were 5,095, the penalty is likely to be 45 percent of the monthly fee with a 98.5 percent collection rate.” 

According to the terms of the 100 penalty for each missed household. Additionally, if the company does not fix its mistake by 5 p.m. the next day, the city can assess an additional $50 fine for each occurrence. There are also penalties for habitual misses of a home, street or housing addition.

In his email, Gratz said the city’s solid waste fund will have about $1 million at the end of 2018. Gratz said the fund consists of monthly user fees, reimbursements for cleanup costs, missed collections, liquidated damage penalty fees, sale of recycled materials, promotional fees and other revenues.

“This fund pays for the cost of collecting, disposing and recycling of solid waste, including salaries of solid waste employees, garbage carts, leaf collection, neighborhood cleans and advertising,” Gratz wrote. “In addition to reducing the need for future rate increases, some of the funds from the fines have been used to pay overtime for 311 (call center employees) who have been working on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.”

Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, said the information about how the city levies fines against Red River, which council members received about two hours before this week’s meeting, was shocking. 

“I don’t know what the numbers are exactly. I just know we could hold them more accountable to the contract and it’s not happening and we’re just continuing to try to push that envelope more and more from the council’s end,” Barranda said. “We’d like the administration to follow suit.”

Barranda also said it would have been helpful to have someone from the administration come to the table to discuss the questions raised. 

“I would rather (the administration) enforce according to the terms of the contract,” Barranda said. “They came up with a formula for the way they were going to enforce it, but it was based on the old contract, not the new contract.” 

dgong@jg.net

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