Starting next week, Fort Wayne Street Department workers will pick up the slack for garbage and recycling collections that the city's trash hauler misses.
Pickups by Red River Waste Solutions have improved in recent months, but Mayor Tom Henry said Tuesday work remains to ensure refuse is quickly removed from residents' curbs.
On Monday, city employees will begin picking up trash and recycling the Texas company doesn't collect.
“It's the city's duty to ensure the best services possible are being provided to our garbage and recycling customers and look for proactive solutions aimed at quality assurance,” Henry said at a news conference outside his downtown office.
“We recognize a number of customers have experienced challenges, and we're taking action again because our residents deserve the best, and we demand a higher standard of performance from Red River. We want all residents to know that we're committed to meeting the needs of the community.”
The new initiative follows the implementation in late 2018 of new routes designed to increase on-time collections and applies to garbage left by Red River for more than 24 hours.
The city's contract with the company defines a missed pickup “as viable after 24 hours has elapsed from the day of the scheduled collection.”
For example, if the scheduled pickup is Monday, Red River has until the end of the following business day to collect the garbage. If it doesn't, Street Department workers will take it away.
City crews – it's not clear how many employees will participate – will work on trash collection on their off-hours. They will be paid from fines levied on Red River for missed pickups.
Public Works Director Shan Gunawardena said Street Department workers typically leave work about 2:30 p.m. and could collect garbage until about 6:30 p.m. He said some employees already have volunteered to help.
The city will use two of its own trucks, and a third could be leased, Gunawardena said.
Fort Wayne officials entered into a contract with Red River in 2017, and the company took over trash hauling in 2018. Residents and city leaders since have criticized it for late or missed trash and recycling collections.
About 120,000 collections are made each week, and Red River typically misses 1% to 2% of those, according to a news release.
“We recognize that a number of citizens continue to experience challenges,” Henry said.
Members of a panel of city officials and neighborhood association representatives said the new plan was hatched after about three weeks of discussion.
Adrienne Maurer, a member of the Mayor's Working Group on Garbage and Recycling, said her neighborhood south of downtown has seen missed or delayed collections. The new arrangement should be an improvement, she said.
“We believe we have acted in the best interests of the city and the neighborhoods,” Maurer said. “We feel the frustrations just as much as you do.
“You want your garbage picked up on the designated day. So do we.”
City Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said in a statement “a disproportionate amount of missed garbage and recycling pickups (are) in the Fifth District.”
“I have a great deal of faith in our outstanding city employees,” he said. “They will do the job our current hauler has failed to do.”
Republican Tim Smith, who is running against Democrat Henry for mayor, has urged his opponent to take a more aggressive approach to Red River, suggesting the company should be “brought back to the negotiating table.” If not, he said last week and again in a phone interview Tuesday, another hauler should be sought.
The city also could pursue more fines and make use of GPS technology to study when and where Red River is missing pickups, he said.
“Why did (Henry) wait till June 25 to engage a self-cure option?” Smith asked, referring to the plan to enlist city workers.
“Red River should do its job. City employees should not have to make up for their mistakes.”
City Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, said he sent a letter to Henry in September asking about the self-cure clause in the contract.
“I am grateful the mayor has taken the clothespin off his nose,” Jehl said in a statement.
“The garbage issue cannot be fixed without his engagement.”
Henry said canceling the seven-year contract with Red River would lead to collection delays, a possible lawsuit and the need to re-bid the contract – a process that would take months.
Residents should call 311 if their trash isn't picked.