Officials from the City of Berea recently met with representatives of Waste Connections in a special called meeting to discuss communication, customer service issues, and future rates. City officials said they hope to keep garbage collection rates at a relatively low level despite increased costs affecting the industry. “Our goal as a city is to provide reliable and efficient waste service, and to keep rates as low as possible for our citizens,” said Mayor Bruce Fraley, who added he believes the city is close to reaching such a deal.
At last Wednesday’s meeting, Carl Town and Aaron Hopper of Waste Connections fielded questions and concerns from council members Cora Jane Wilson, Ronnie Terrill, Jerry Little, Jim Davis, John Payne, David Rowlette and City Administrator David Gregory, who submitted questions on behalf of council members who could not attend the meeting.
Berea’s contract with Waste Connections expires on March 1. The company is proposing a three-percent rate increase for 2020, which would be 28 cents more per month, or $3.36 more per year for residential customers.
“Nothing is finalized. We’re just in the process of working with them,” Fraley said Friday. “But we think where they’re looking for a three-percent rate increase for one year, we would like to have that three-percent increase for our residential customers for two years, so there’s no increase in 2021,” Fraley said. On commercial garbage collection rates, Waste Connections is proposing a three-percent increase for 2020, with the possibility of a five-percent increase in 2021. The rate for 2022 could be up for negotiation, depending on the final terms of the rate adjustment. Fraley and Gregory met with Waste Connections staff on Friday in an effort to finalize a deal.
When discussing the proposed rate hike, Town emphasized the increase is relatively modest given the fact that the industry is facing increased labor costs, driving up overhead by seven percent, according to industry indexes. Town cited the challenge of hiring new drivers as one significant factor in the increased labor costs, as younger workers seem less inclined to go into the waste disposal field, Town said. He added, however, that the proposed residential hike is still 47 cents less than the rate proposed by the city’s former garbage collector, Rumpke, when the contract was bid out in 2018.
Much of the special called meeting was spent discussing customer service and communication, which Town said the company is making efforts to improve. This week, the company launched WasteConnect, a phone app that allows customers to receive updates or changes in their pick-up times, submit a payment, or search the Waste Wizard feature, which instructs customers on whether to put an item in the garbage bin or their recycling bin. The app can be downloaded for free on phone retail outlets like Google Play or Apple’s App Store.
Additionally, Town noted the company has become more familiar with social media groups like Let’s Grow Berea in an effort to stay in touch and better gauge how the company is meeting the needs of customers.
On the issue of customer service, Ronnie Terrill and Cora Jane Wilson requested Waste Connections provide a monthly report on complaints about service. Some customers, for example, complain to the city when their garbage has not been picked up due to non-payment. Aaron Hopper noted the company makes an effort to contact customers before service is suspended, typically trying to contact them four times over a 60-day period. Hopper noted that when the company does miss a pick-up, crews try to return the same day or the next day. Wilson requested a report on complaints to determine which customers have complained to the city without first trying to resolve it with Waste Connections.
Regarding recycling, Town mentioned that while there was a recent interruption in glass collection, that service has resumed again.
In one other item, Terrill asked for a clarification on the company’s policy for picking up bulky items. He noted that he’s seen a piece of furniture sitting at a curb on Prospect Street, which has not been picked up. Hopper explained that Waste Connections will pick up items every Friday if customers call at least by the Thursday prior, but that there is typically an extra charge for pick-up. Sometimes customers don’t make those arrangements, then leave an item at the curb in the hope that it will eventually be picked up, Terrill said. He requested the company notify the city of those instances so that the Codes and Planning Department can be informed.