Thousands of apartment, condominium and short-term rental properties on Hilton Head Island could find themselves scrambling for a new waste hauler this winter, possibly at a higher cost.
Hilton Head Island Town Council on Tuesday gave initial approval to dumping its lone waste hauler -- Republic Services Inc. -- more than a year early in the wake of trash and recycling pickup complaints.
Council voted unanimously to terminate collection services for multi-family and short-rental properties and end Saturday service beginning March 1. The company's contract with the town, set to expire in 2016, would instead end Sept. 30, 2014.
Republic would continue to provide service to single-family homes through Sept. 30, 2014. Apartments, condo regimes and short-term rentals could hire a different hauler, provided recycling is part of the base price, according to the revised agreement, which requires another reading by council.
A 2.25 percent increase in collection fees -- scheduled for April 1 -- would take affect as called for under the original agreement.
"A large number of my constituents don't want to have to go another year or season to figure this out," councilwoman Kim Likins said. "If we were to make a decision right now, I don't think the town needs to be in the waste hauling business. I applaud what we've done with recycling, but think we can come up with some way to ensure all haulers provide recycling."
Council will discuss later this week how to provide waste and recycling services. It could either return garbage pickup to a free-market model where residents choose who picks up their trash or again attempt a townwide franchise with one hauler. It could opt for a plan that is a combination of the two, Mayor Drew Laughlin said.
Not everyone on council believes the idea of a franchise should be abandoned.
"We can't ignore the positives," councilman Lee Edwards said. "... I'd hate to throw out all the good with the bad."
The town chose to work with a single garbage contractor, believing the change would make recycling more convenient, increase its rate, lower pickup costs for most residents and reduce wear on roads. The town has accomplished all of that, Edwards said.
Town manger Steve Riley said the high cost of creating its own department to oversee trash and recycling pickup make it unlikely the town would choose that route.
Republic had requested that service to 5,500 multi-family and short-term rental units end beginning Jan. 1, but council worried that would not provide them enough time to find a replacement.
Waste Management sent council a letter Tuesday requesting it delay terminating services until March 1. The company said it could not "secure the equipment and manpower necessary to be able to offer services," by Jan. 1. It also said it would need time to assess service demands and pricing.
A Waste Pro representative also told council Tuesday his company is interested in providing service to Republic customers whose service would end March 1.
It's unclear, though, what the companies would charge to step in.
Resident and island attorney Chet Williams worried what would happen should no hauler come in for what residents believe is a reasonable price. Council did not have an answer to that question.
"Everyone finds themselves in an untenable situation and everyone is looking for the nearest exit," Williams said. "... If you hadn't opened this door several years ago, we wouldn't have this situation now."
Video: Hilton Head council favors dumping waste hauler early (:39)
In other business
- A resolution endorsing a plan to improve safety on U.S. 278 on Jenkins Island, where the highway intersects with the entrance to Windmill Harbour. The plan would improve safety along a dangerous portion of the highway, which could become more congested when the Bluffton Parkway flyover is completed, according to town and Beaufort County officials.
- A conceptual master plan for a new waterfront park at Shelter Cove that calls for a shorter, 200-foot dock extending into the marsh of Broad Creek.