Town manager: Dropping Hilton Head garbage deal not an option

tbarton@islandpacket.comSeptember 16, 2013 

Missed trash pickups on Hilton Head Island have dropped off since hitting a peak in July, but town officials still find themselves grappling with recurring complaints.

The complaints declined after Labor Day, with the end of tourist season, according to the town.

Several condominium complexes, though, say service is still unsatisfactory.

"We pay for twice-a-week service for regular trash and once-a-week recycling, which doesn't always happen," said Phyllis Merchen, who manages condominium regimes in Hilton Head Plantation, Sea Pines and mid-island.

"In some cases I have not had recycling in a month," Merchen said. "... With my old contractor, I did not have to visit the property every trash day to make sure it was picked up. I now have to spend more and more time following up on the trash contractor."

Both Merchen and Hilton Head Plantation condo owner Deb Welch want the town to cancel its five-year contract with Republic for residential waste and recycling collection. The contract expires in 2016.

"It's not working, and trying to make it look like it's getting better isn't working either," Merchen said. "I'd like to go back to allowing regimes to choose their preferred hauler."

Town manager Steve Riley said breaking the contract is not so easy.

He warned the company last year it had breached its franchise agreement after town officials said they received nearly 130 complaints in July and more than 90 in August of 2012. The number of complaints subsided in the fall.

Then from May to August 2013, the town heard 505 complaints. In July, it received more than 200 complaints. So far in September, it has received 43 complaints.

The number of missed collections seems large, but it represents a small percentage of the total number of collections that Republic makes on Hilton Head, Riley said.

For example, in July, of the 161,699 collections scheduled, 712 -- or less than 1 percent -- were missed, according to town figures.

"A majority of customers -- 99 percent -- are happy with the service and paying less for the service than they previously did," said town public projects director Scott Liggett.

That doesn't give the town a strong case for breaking the agreement, Riley said.

"There will be lawsuits and other service issues" if the town were to do so, he said. "That's not really an option. So we are trying to work within the framework to address these issues."

For example, he said the town has pushed Republic to establish a Web-based complaint tracking system. Such a system is required in Republic's contract, but the company has struggled to implement it.

Riley said officials have also suggested Republic issue credits or rebates for missed service, but it has been unwilling to do so.

"There's been a lot of conversation about pricing, but (town officials) haven't arrived at any changes at this point," Riley said. "We continue to try to see what we can do to come up with solutions to ongoing, chronic issues but don't have something that's acceptable to us yet."

Despite the complaints, town officials argue the franchise agreement has been successful by quadrupling the volume of recycling on the island, reducing the number of garbage trucks on the road and lowering costs for most residents.

A Republic representative did not respond by deadline to a request for comment.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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