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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Aug. 19, 2022 1 month ago

Trash talk dominates town discussion

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The Windermere Town Council members revisited ongoing service issues residents have experienced with WastePro.
by: Annabelle Sikes Staff Writer

The Windermere Town Council discussed several ongoing topics such as service issues from WastePro for solid waste and recycling collection at its Tuesday, Aug. 9, meeting. 

WastePro first acknowledged its difficulty servicing the town of Windermere in May, when company representative Platt Loftis delivered an annual update to the council.

“We’re having challenges servicing this municipality,” Loftis said at the May meeting. “The town is having service issues, we acknowledge it; this is something we’re trying to get in front of. This is an absolute industry-wide situation that we are in. I’m not here to give you any excuses. I’m here again to acknowledge what’s happening; it’s unacceptable.”

After that meeting, Loftis said he would create a detailed action plan for Town Manager Robert Smith. 

Since then, Smith said town staff has had meetings with Loftis and other route managers on at least two or three occasions to obtain their action plans.

“WastePro has been consistent with their message about recruiting, trying to get CDL drivers; it’s not just the solid-waste industry that’s having this issue,” Smith said. “We are very understanding right now of what’s going on. … Communication has been the biggest issue I think … but hopefully, we see an improvement in that communication.”

RESOLUTION REQUEST

The topic resurfaced in last week’s meeting in relation to a proposed resolution for the non-ad valorem assessment roll for solid waste and recycling collection. 

The 4.18% increase is lower than the current CPI, although it was unanticipated that Orange County would increase their tipping fees at landfills the very same day. 

Town Clerk Dorothy Burkhalter read several public comments into the record from those who were not able to attend the meeting in person. 

In an email, resident Curtis Cramer said in the last several months he has received “pitiful service” yet is still paying.

“I pay for three days and have been receiving two days, and many weeks, only one pick up,” Cramer said. “My garbage cans sit outside in front of the house for days; now you want to assess me more money. … This is unacceptable.”

Seven other residents submitted similar emails mentioning lack of service, their opposition to the resolution, damaged cans, lack of communication, scattered trash from weather and more. 

“I don’t mind paying — but not for poor service,” resident Ruby Cruciana said. “I have called WastePro several times regarding this situation, and I was told that they could not help, and I understand that. However I don’t feel like I should have to pay for their unfortunate problems.”

However, not all residents agreed. 

“I love our trash service,” Tom Stroup said. “The guys come to my house, they honk at all the kids, they come out and put my trash cans back. I mean, I talk to them every day. … Of all the complaints you hear, I think there are more people that are satisfied with the effort. There’s been days where they haven’t picked it up. But you know what? Life’s not perfect, and I understand it’s going to happen again.”

Loftis again addressed the council and said the company has been having issues regarding inflation. He said the supply-chain difficulties and labor shortages also have been challenging. In addition, waste tonnages are increasing.

“I hear you loud and clear,” Loftis said. “This is very, very uncomfortable for me. Again, I was here six or so months ago hearing a completely different story. Unfortunately, global economics has changed things, not to make any excuses. … It’s not just unique to us. Please understand this is an industry-wide situation — especially in Central Florida.”

To change the situation, Loftis said WastePro has sent a letter to all the residents explaining what the company is doing and what it expects to happen. Those measures include enhanced recruiting efforts, promoting from within with in-house training, increasing wages, hosting job fairs, obtaining additional trucks and bringing the company’s senior operations specialist from the Jacksonville facility to the town of Windermere for a month. 

“We know there are challenges out there, but we are trying our best to remediate this as much as we can,” Loftis said. “Again, I know this is very challenging to hear — and for me even to ask — but with these three things we are challenged with … asking for a CPI just partially alleviates the challenges we’re up against.”

Mayor Jim O’Brien said the timing for the increase is unfortunate because everyone is feeling the pain of inflation.

“One of the important things that we do as partners in this, because it is a bit of a partnership, is that I want WastePro to be successful in this, I want our residents to have the best service possible,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s smart for us to work together to see if we can start getting some additional improvements in that performance, because what we are doing now is not sustainable.”

Council Member Tony Davit said he understands the dilemma, but the town has an obligation to its residents. 

“We’ve got citizens, the residents of Windermere, (who) are going without service that they are paying for through their taxes,” Davit said. “There’s a happy medium here. You give us a date where you can improve the service, and it’s reasonable to council, then I think we’ll agree to that. … I think that at that point, if you’re still not making the mark, then contractually, we need to exercise the provisions within the contract.”

Council Member Bill Martini said he thinks lack of communication is the biggest issue when it comes to services.

“Since April 6, WastePro has missed 26 out of 68 collections — that’s 36%,” Martini said. “I’m all for taking a measured approach, and benchmarks and what not, but …you’ve got to do what you say you’re going to do.”

The resolution passed unanimously. 

WastePro agreed to set up a series of benchmarks and plans to be present at the next Town Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 13. 

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Annabelle Sikes is a staff writer at the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She graduated in May 2021 from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in sociology.  Her past...

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