Just one week before Fort Wayne's new waste management company is scheduled to appear before City Council to explain its recent collection issues, city officials announced Tuesday $65,000 in fines levied against Red River Waste Solutions in April and May.
“We expect better results from Red River. My staff and I, along with City Council, are adamant that improvements need to be made to ensure garbage and recycling collection procedures and outcomes meet the needs and expectations of our residents and neighborhoods,” Mayor Tom Henry said in a statement. “Though we recognize that challenges are to be expected with a new provider, Red River has assured us that they're prepared and ready to enhance their daily operations. I'm optimistic that they're up to the task.”
Henry also said his office has received complaints, as well as compliments, regarding the services Red River provides. The firm took over Jan. 2 for Republic Waste Management, which held the contract for 20 years. The $6.98 million contract was unanimously approved by City Council last year.
Because Red River did not meet certain performance benchmarks required in its service contract with the city, Fort Wayne officials fined the company $15,000 in April and $50,000 for May.
A message left for Red River seeking comment was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Complaints started pouring in to the city's 311 call center and to all nine City Council members shortly after Red River took over the contract.
During a meeting with City Council members in February, Public Works Director Shan Gunawardena and Ivan Upshaw, Red River's regional manager, blamed the issues on new drivers unfamiliar with routes, harsh early-year weather and a particularly bad flu season.
At the time, Upshaw assured the councilmen that within a few weeks of that meeting, the company would “surpass what the city has seen in the past from contractors 20 years on the job.”
Four months later, council members say they're still receiving repeated complaints.
“The company has been so horrible in its delivery of the service that it came to the fine, first of all. We shouldn't have gotten to that point,” said Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th. “I think they're having a hard time with this contract, so I don't know what the option is going to be, but they have to improve performance, because it's not just one side of town. I get calls from all over the city.”
Hines said the fines being imposed are not a solution – there needs to be real improvement in how the service is provided. Hines said he plans to ask the company what it is doing to correct the issue.
“When they came (to council) before, it was the January weather, the diesel fuel, the trucks not starting, a new contract,” Hines said. “So now, what's the excuse? I'd like to see them address it.”
In a statement, council President Tom Freistroffer, R-at large, shared a similar sentiment.
“City Council is very disappointed with repetitive resident complaints regarding Red River's continued mishaps on garbage and recycling collection,” Freistroffer said. “The vote at council was focused on saving the taxpayers money, in taking the lowest bid and providing the best service to the city of Fort Wayne.”