More for town to do to fix garbage mess

Hilton Head Island Town Council must help residents grappling with increased rates.

info@islandpacket.comFebruary 15, 2014 

Just like residents across Hilton Head Island, we are bothered by the expected tripling of trash and recycling collection rates following Town Council's vote to end its franchise agreement with Republic Services.

Town leaders have butted heads with Republic because the hauler wanted to increase its rates. Mayor Drew Laughlin has said Republic bid too low on the contract and, realizing its mistake, attempted to right the revenue wrong.

And Republic has had its own sharp words for the town, complaining the town misled it, unfairly allowing other haulers to operate within the town limits and overestimating the number of residential pickups, leaving the company with fewer customers than expected.

Bottom line: The union between Republic and the town was rotten from the start and doomed to fail. And higher rates were going to hit no matter what, shocking residents who enjoyed a temporary respite of artificially low prices.

At whom should residents throw tomatoes? The town and Republic both share the blame.

For the town's part, its leaders were so focused on responding to residents' desire for a recycling program and figuring out how to set one up in 2010, they failed to gauge how trash pickup would be affected. Ultimately, it did not seek expert advice and naively inked a deal with a company unable to meet expectations.

And for Republic's part, it was so eager to be the island's sole hauler, it underestimated the amount of work required to fulfill its obligations, initially, missing pickups at residential stops and later, not living up to the expectation of condo owners and managers. It also charged too little, then attempted to rectify the oversight too late.

We believe the ending of the contract is best. The question is how to proceed. Two options exist:

  • As of April 1, the town is out of the trash business and will return to the days of residents picking their own haulers. But that approach will hurt wallets. To soften the blow, the town must encourage plantations to pen contracts with haulers. (At least two plantations are already pursuing such arrangements.) Haulers need to provide bulk service in order to set lower prices. Plantations can use their large residential populations to negotiate deals.

  • Additionally, we hope other haulers will return to the island, creating competition for Republic and lowering rates. Two haulers say they plan to offer Hilton Head service and will announce their new prices soon.

  • Town Council might also consider a new franchise agreement with a yet-to-be-determined hauler solely for residential pickup. But this time, the town must do its homework. Big questions exist including whether a hauler has adequate resources to get the job done and whether residents will save money through a new franchise agreement.

  • It would behoove the town to hire a trash consultant, not a recycling one, to help out this time.

    Hilton Head's trash franchise stunk. And no matter how Town Council proceeds, we're likely facing higher pickup rates. But the town cannot just throw up its hands and walk away. There's more work to be done to help residents dig out of the mess.

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