First week of Butte County’s new waste-hauling system was a mess
If you’re one of the many Butte County residents who’s recently wanted some answers regarding your refuse—i.e., who will be picking it up, when are they planning on coming, and what’s with the higher bill?—then you might have called someone who works for the county, such as recycling coordinator Steve Rodowick.
If so, Rodowick’s answering machine recording may have told you to contact him by email instead. As a robotic voice explained, “No messages may be taken for this mailbox. It is full.”
The recording is one indication that, in the week since adopting a new waste-hauling franchise agreement, county officials have been bombarded with questions and complaints. (More than 500 concerned citizens called since the transition began on March 1.) Another is the way Paul Hahn, the county’s chief administrative officer, addressed the Butte County Board of Supervisors during its meeting on Tuesday (March 10).
“I don’t think I have to tell the board how things are going,” he said, “because I think we’ve all heard loud and clear from constituents who are unhappy.”
In June, the supervisors voted unanimously to adopt franchise agreements with three trash haulers—Recology, Waste Management and Northern Recycling and Waste Services. The agreements divided the county into operating zones for each company as a way to ease wear and tear on roads, reduce vehicle emissions and increase revenues by directing most trash, recyclables and green waste to the county-operated Neal Road Recycling and Waste facility.
The transition, which affects more than 21,000 county residents, has been a mess so far. Customers have reported issues with all three haulers, including missed pick-up days, an unexpected reduction of recycling and yard-waste services from once a week to every other week, and haulers no longer serving customers who live on private roads.
There were also numerous complaints specific to Waste Management, such as failure to alert customers of the pending changes, adding unexplained charges to bills and frustrating and unhelpful interactions with the company’s national call center based in Phoenix.
Take Lesley Beadle, who lives off Dayton Road, just outside of Chico city limits. She and her husband, Roger, have been satisfactorily served by Waste Management for the past nine years. But the company didn’t provide advanced notice about the reduction of their recycling service, or that their rate for trash pickup would go from $35 to $54. And calling the company was futile.
“No one at Waste Management could tell me what the new bills were going to be,” Beadle said. “I told them I’d like to have a supervisor call me, or someone who has knowledge of this situation. No one from Waste Management has called me back.”
At the supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Hahn said the county is working with all three haulers to iron out the wrinkles moving forward. Some issues, like missed pick-up days, were anticipated early on but should become less frequent over time, he said.
Others require a more involved fix. For instance, Hahn said that any customers of Waste Management who received bills including a fuel surcharge or an administrative fee were, in fact, charged erroneously and are entitled to a new bill or a credit toward their next one. As such, Waste Management has set up a local number (see column note) to ensure those customers don’t get endlessly redirected by its national call center.
Additionally, the recycling zone adjacent to Chico—where the Beadles live—will return to weekly recycling and yard-waste services on Monday (March 16). “We didn’t think the change would cause such an outcry,” Hahn said. “But we have listened.”
The changeover also caused some residents living in unincorporated areas like Berry Creek and Butte Creek Canyon to lose recycling services entirely. But Hahn said “all three haulers have stepped up” and agreed to offer every-other-week pickup in areas that were served prior to the transition.
Offering hauling services to residents on private roads is trickier. Under county code, those services must be provided along county-maintained roads, but not on private roads, and haulers are concerned with the liability associated with their heavy vehicles causing damage to roadways. The haulers have agreed to assess private roads upon request to make sure they’re safe. If they are, the customers will be asked to sign a waiver of liability, and services will resume. If they aren’t, customers will be asked to bring their trash out to a county-maintained road.
While some of these concerns are limited to rural areas, the county’s struggles with the new trash-hauling system are relevant to the city of Chico, as well. Back in December 2013, the Chico City Council voted to hire an outside consultant to explore entering a similar franchise agreement.
“Hopefully, as the city goes through the franchise agreement,” Hahn said, “they can learn from our mistakes.”