Nobody directly stated what the problem had been, as if it needed no elaboration. Bags had been piling up. Complaints raged. In some places, trash had not been picked up in three weeks, and that just stunk. The first headline on the county’s “Solid Waste – News” web page reads, “How to Request a Waste Pro Credit.” Instructions begin, “If you have had missed garbage pick up . . . .” Citizen Jerry Rice gave another clue. He said somebody in his neighborhood had made a sign that read “Waste Pro, Please” with a big pink arrow.
Also during public comment, Scott Welch, owner and president of another solid waste hauler, Consolidated Waste Management, cautioned the commissioners that any hauler with whom they contracted would have the same problems. These days, most local governments with a solid waste contract provide universal pickup and bill with property taxes. Buncombe County requires individuals to take out subscriptions with the hauler. That means collectors always have to check to see if an address is still or newly on their routes. What’s more, Waste Pro has to support a billing department. Welch said the county was large enough to be state-of-the-art, but it was managing solid waste as if it were still in the Stone Ages.
Some of the commissioners, in fact, had not gotten their trash picked up. Ellen Frost said she had been a disgruntled customer. Waste Pro remedied her problem, but she wasn’t sure some little guy who wasn’t on the board of commissioners would get the same level of response. Mike Fryar said they had skipped his trash a couple days, too. He spoke to Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton, and the problem was solved promptly. The same was true for a lady in Black Mountain who had asked Fryar for assistance. Brownie Newman said, “The status quo is totally unacceptable. This is a disastrous level of failure to perform a public service.”
Greene presented the terms of the new agreement twice: (1) Waste Pro would set up one-stop shopping for receiving emails and phone calls. A concerted effort would be made to answer routinely and ambitiously. Priority would be given to clients needing pickup. (2) A new division manager, Chip Gingles, has been hired. He has fifteen years of experience in collection management, and, said Greene, “He is hitting the ground running.” (3) Several experienced Waste Pro employees had left in the spring, but the company is now at full-staff. (4) Waste Pro has invested in a computer system that uses GPS technology to show collectors which trash belongs to Waste Pro subscribers. (5) The company has purchased five new trucks with better maneuverability for smaller roads. This will give rural households the option of roadside pickup and hopefully reduce what Greene kept referring to as “communal piles of trash.” (6) The county and Waste Pro would get on the same page, providing “very scripted messages” to make sure customers weren’t getting mixed signals.
For its part of the bargain, Buncombe County would ramp up education efforts to make sure citizens knew “how to access services and better spread the word that trash collection in Buncombe County comes with a separate bill. Greene asked members of the public to help by being patient and not calling unless trash day had been missed entirely. “If you’re used to having it picked up at 9:00, or picked up at 10:00; [don’t call] at 9:30 – We’re coming,” she said. Lastly, she asked for 45-60 days to fully implement all changes, even though marked improvements should be visible long before then.
Newman balked somewhat. “To some degree, we have kind of heard this before,” he said. He asked for a review and report after sixty days. Miranda DeBruhl asked how long it would take to get another hauler up-to-speed, and Greene estimated six months.
“You don’t play favorites. I’ll give you that,” said Chair David Gantt. “After all this broke, you didn’t pick up three commissioners’ trash.” He referred to existing service levels as “a dismal effort,” not entirely accepting reasons given in the past. For example, late pickups in March were blamed on ice storms. Gantt thought it wisdom to “negotiate before you litigate.” He continued, “We want you to do well. We want you to succeed. But you’re going to have to pick it up in a big way. . . . If you keep going where you’re going, or if you don’t take it seriously, it’s gonna fail, and it’s gonna be bad for both of us.”
Joe Belcher focused on the bright side. He said reports indicate a recovered customer is 4-10 times likelier to recommend a business than one who never had a problem. “So this is a great opportunity,” he said, “I look forward to you being able to pull it off.”
The next day, the streets were just crawling with Waste Pro trucks, with haulers demonstrating new enthusiasm. The scene was reminiscent of the day after Bill Hogan assumed the role of Asheville Police Chief. Cruisers were everywhere. Citizens are urged to alert Waste Pro of any neglected pickups by calling 828-684-7792. They may lodge compliments or complaints via wasteprousa.com
In Other Matters –
Activist Betty Jackson challenged the commissioners’ consent agenda and the lack of explanations for what little is posted. After asking why the NC Arboretum needed fifteen tasers and why the county had fifteen to spare – and why the county was selling women’s shoes, washing machines, buck knives, and TV’s – she suggested calling that portion of county business the “not for public consumption agenda.”