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Numerous complaints of missed trash and recycling collections has prompted the Town of Hilton Head Island to send a warning this week to its lone waste hauler.
Town manager Steve Riley sent Republic Services Inc. a letter, dated Monday, stating the company was in breach of its franchise agreement with the town because of poor performance.
The town received more than 130 complaints last month, according to facilities manager Julian Walls. Most were because of missed pickups and Republic's failure to respond within 24 hours after being notified, according to town officials.
Riley gave the company five days to make corrections and meet performance requirements required performance standards or risk losing the town's business.
Republic contends the agreement makes it difficult for the company to anticipate how many customers it must serve from month to month, which disrupts its operations.
Town Council granted a five-year franchise to Republic Services to provide residential waste and recycling collection beginning April 2011.
Households that held on to previous contracts for waste or recycling collection have until those contracts expire or Sept. 30, whichever comes first, to sign up for the program.
Residents can choose to haul garbage and recyclables to a county-operated dump instead.
"Unpredictability of when people will sign up is the main issue here," Art Smith, municipal marketing manager for Republic Services, said by phone Thursday. "We can only anticipate."
Smith said two large island property-management firms simultaneously signed up for service June 1, generating 1,500 new customers overnight -- a jump of about 20 percent.
That caught the company off guard and put it in a scramble to hire more drivers and supervisors, he said. "Plus, you had a busy July on the island, our busiest month of the year. ... We got hit like a hurricane but are getting back on track."
Three employees have already been hired with six more expected by Oct. 1, Smith said. He said complaints have subsided, and service will continue to improve, adding that supervisors closely monitor quality control.
Riley, though, wants assurances that complaints won't pick up again as the Sept. 30 deadline nears.
The hauler serves about 10,000 residential customers on Hilton Head, with about another 4,000 expected to sign up by Oct. 1.
"They said they're doing what they can to hire qualified drivers. We told them we need a better plan than, 'We're trying,'" Riley said.
His letter requested the company "inform the town of what quality-assurance steps they will put in place" to correct errors before complaints are made.
Smith says the franchise agreement needs to be revised to address disparate service needs among single-family and rental homes. The rentals require more frequent collections and labor, but are treated the same under the contract, he said.
"We aren't strangers to the waste business, and while we've had some issues, the town has a part in this as well, and we need to work together," Smith said.
Residents also complained of a reinstatement fee to renew services, according to Riley's letter.
Smith contends town staff did not object to the fee, which is not specified in the contract. Town staff members, however, have since said it does not support the charge.
"Up until the most recent spike in complaints, it was going remarkably well," Riley said. "We've hit a real bump in the road here, and it's not acceptable. But they're a big national company. They ought to be able to get it straightened out. Their reputation is important to them."