Trash haulers to re-enter Hilton Head; rates will rise

tbarton@islandpacket.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Two area waste haulers say they're committed to helping the Town of Hilton Head Island dig itself out of its garbage mess.

But that digging won't be cheap.

Both Waste Management and Waste Pro said Friday they will offer service to island residents beginning in April -- one at nearly triple the cost some residents are now paying.

Town Council last month ended its franchise agreement with Republic Services, effective March 31, after owners of short-term rentals and condominium regimes complained of trash piling up outside their units and poor service. Unable to solve the problems, council chose to open pickup service to other companies.

It's a move that will hit some residents in their wallets.

For those who stick with Republic, the cost for weekly pickup will jump from $55 per quarter to about $155 for a single-family home. Twice-a-week pickup will rise from $64 to about $195.

Waste Management has quoted similar prices -- $151 for weekly pickup and $187 for twice-a-week garbage and once-a-week recycling collection.

Before the franchise, Waste Management charged $135 a quarter for once-a-week trash and recycling pickup for single-family homes.

"The rates are very similar to the rates we charged prior to the franchise, considering the cost increases we've seen since then to purchase trucks and fuel," Russell Hightower, public affairs manager for Waste Management's South Atlantic area, said Friday.

Communities on the island can soften the blow by signing contracts with haulers as a preferred or exclusive provider, haulers say. At least two gated communities are pursuing such arrangements.

Haulers can set lower prices for bulk service, and gated communities can use their large populations to negotiate deals, Hightower said, adding that Waste Management also intends to offer discounts to former customers.

James Lanier, Waste Pro division manager, said the company is selectively offering quotes based on an inspection of the service needs of each property owner who requests a rate.

"We won't offer a blanket rate," he said. "It's such a unique dynamic on the island (with the mix of single-family homes, short-term vacation rentals, condos and apartments) that we have to look at each individual application and are pricing it accordingly."

He declined to provide examples of quotes the company has been offering.

Mayor Drew Laughlin and town manager Steve Riley have said a price hike was inevitable. They and the haulers say Republic set an artificially low rate to win the town's contract, which prevented rates from increasing more than 2.25 percent a year.

For Republic, the contract turned out to be a losing proposition, so the company was eager to end the five-year agreement after only two years -- and threatened to sue the town to do so, both parties have said.

"We entered into the franchise agreement with the highest of hopes," Republic spokesman Russ Knocke wrote in an email. "The reality is, together we raised the recycling bar significantly in a very short period of time. If nothing else, that's a good legacy."

Some residents have suggested council consider a new franchise for single-family home pickup to help residents save money, and select a hauler with the adequate resources to do the job.

Laughlin, though, contends there is not much else the town can do.

"My personal view is we can't be creating uncertainty in the marketplace by going in and out of these types of arrangements," he said. "If we expect haulers to mobilize and give us a competitive marketplace, they need to know we won't turn around in a few months and do something completely different.

"... At the end of the day, when the market settles down, people will probably pay what they were paying before the franchise, or a little less."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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