Palm Coast government today warned Waste Pro in a letter that the city may end its $9 million contract with the hauler that’s provided garbage service citywide since 2007. The city is citing repeated and “severe” service failure despite past attempts going back to last year to correct problems that have added up to at least 4,565 customer complaints just in the last six months, and almost $30,000 in fines levied against the company. The city says Waste Pro is in breach of contract.
The city has been contacting other haulers to perform the work if necessary.
“The City has repeatedly notified Waste Pro, over the past year, of deficient services provided by Waste Pro” under its contract, City Manager Matt Morton wrote Tom Dolan and Brian Wintjen, Waste Pro’s regional vice presidents, in a two-page letter today. “However, the deficiencies still exist and are more becoming more severe and more frequent.”
Waste Pro had a difficult 2017 with the city, piling up fines and complaints. It had a better 2018 and 2019. But Complaints started picking up again toward the end of 2020, becoming worse each month with the new year and raising tensions with the hauler.
“I apologize to you and the City of Palm Coast for the service delays in the past weeks,” Wintjen wrote Morton on April 1. “We have run into an issue regarding hiring helpers as well as obtaining temporary helpers from various agencies we currently use. We have been typically short 4- 6 helpers daily causing the delays. I believe this is a problem that will be corrected within a couple of weeks.”
Wintjen at the time said the company had contracted with three additional temporary providers in Jacksonville and St Augustine, increased pay for all “drivers and helpers” to increase current employees’ pay and raise the starting rate (he did not provide figures) and would hold a job fair and advertise for needed workers. “The service issues are not deep rooted with being short on trucks or drivers,” he wrote Morton.
But Waste Pro was required later that month to come up with a “performance improvement plan.” The company pledged to acquire three additional rear-loaders for the city to help with continued growth and hire additional drivers, as well as add office staff to track complaints (complaints in Palm Coast are lodged through the city’s customer-service staff). “We have set a goal of hiring enough positions to cover all routes, vacations, call-out’s and the driver down time due to the initial training at the time of hire,” the performance plan states. “Our Regional HR manager will be in Palm Coast every week until we are completely staffed. Waste Pro has a job fair set up with a local staffing company on April 27th and plan to have one monthly to help with hiring of additional drivers and helpers.”
The company was also establishing separate supervisors for the Palm Coast and Flagler County areas, “coaching our drivers, doing route observations and coordinating completion of all routes and complaints in the field.” The plan pledged to “maintain a laser focus on customer complaints.”
It apparently did not resolve the problems.
“Garbage collection is an essential service for residents of Palm Coast and the City is dedicated to providing timely and consistent service to residents,” Morton wrote the company’s regional vice president. “The collection services continue to be at unacceptable levels and the City cannot sit idly by and let this continue. It is a priority to provide quality service to our residents. Waste Pro must, within the 7 day notice provided herein, comply with all service level requirements, or the city may have no choice but to pursue its contractual options, including but not limited to claim upon the performance bond and/or self-help, cost of which will be deducted to any amounts due to Waste Pro.”
Waste Pro lost the contract with Beverly Beach two years ago over customer dissatisfaction. Beverly Beach returned to contracting with Flagler Beach for hauling services. Flagler Beach and Bunnell governments have their own, in-house garbage service. Waste Pro’s current contract with Palm Coast expires in 2022. The city began its many steps toward a request for proposals several months ago. Among those steps was a survey gauging customers’ satisfaction and wants from their current service. Waste Pro did not fare badly, with 67 percent of residents liking their garbage service. Not stellar, but not as badly as perceptions of persistent complaints might have let on.
The city council is not interested in major changes. But its members grow impatient with the hauler the more complaints they get. This latest breakdown does not bode well for the company’s future in the city. Waste Pro also provides garbage services for Flagler County’s unincorporated residents in a “piggy-back” contract with county government.
Waste Pro has been in that very spot before, especially in 2017, when labor shortages were not the issue they are today. Morton’s predecessor at the time summed up the state of hauling in the city in two words: “It stinks.” Waste Pro addressed the problem and entered a two-year period of calm satisfaction with and in the city.
Today, Palm Coast is requiring yet another “written work plan and immediate action to be taken by Waste Pro consistent with contractual obligations.” But the city appears disillusioned.
“Given the amount of services that need to be completed on a daily basis and the history of Waste Pro’s failures, the City is strongly considering additional waste hauling, recycling, and debris contractors with their own work force,” Morton’s letter stated, “and would like to work closely with you to assure the contractual services are met.” The city is also invoking the contract’s surety bond, meaning that if the city were to incur additional expenses to ensure garbage service, Waste Pro’s bond would have to underwrite the costs, not Palm Coast customers or Palm Coast government.
“To solve this unacceptable public problem,” the city stated in a release issued today, “the City is proactively seeking out additional haulers in the event that Waste Pro is not able to resolve the breach in the allotted seven day time frame. If Waste Pro does not sufficiently correct the issues described in this news release, the City has the contractual right to terminate the contract with Waste Pro.” Waste Pro had not responded to an inquiry about Palm Coast’s letter by the time this article initially published.