County needs proof of breach

Published 8:29 pm Friday, July 4, 2014

If Advanced Disposal is in breach of its contract with Pike County, the commission isn’t aware of it. County Attorney Allen Jones said commissioners would need verifiable proof in order to break the county’s 11-year-old contract with Advanced Disposal, despite complaints from residents regarding the consistency of garbage collection.

So far, residents have not provided it.

“We need to find out what’s going on, take the contract and see if there has been a breach of agreement,” he said. “And if it’s been breached, to what extent? We can’t take hearsay. There has to be an investigation.”

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Over the past few weeks, several county residents have talked to The Messenger about interrupted, unreliable service received by the waste disposal company. County commissioners have heard their share of stories, too.

The commission met with Advanced Disposal General Manager Billy Porter at last month’s meeting. Porter said many of the stories they were hearing came from people who had lost service because of nonpayment. He provided commissioners with the full list of non-paying customers, saying nearly a third of the customers are delinquent.

“Mr. Porter seemed to be sincere. They realize there’s some issues and are working on them,” said Commissioner Robin Sullivan shortly after the meeting.

And commissioners know the problem all too well. Before disposal services were subcontracted in April 2003, the county provided the service. “The delinquency in participation, in people not getting cans and the delinquency in payment of the fees resulted in enormous financial losses to the county to the point that it became necessary for the collection and disposal service to be handled by an independent service,” Jones said.

Since Porter spoke with commissioners, little has changed, according to Chief Marketing Officer Mary Middleton O’Brien.

“Thirty-two percent of the Pike County residents (or 1,022 to be exact) remain on Stop Service for non-payment of their garbage bill,” she said. “From the list given to the county commissioners of all customers on Stop Service in June, the list has only improved by 11 paying customers (from 1,033 to 1,022 on Stop Service for non-payment) – hardly what anyone can call improvement.”

Non-paying customers are placed on the Stop Service list once their accounts are 60 days overdue. The customers are notified on their invoices that payment is past due. The company also notifies via the phone number provided when service was originally established.

“Thus, Advanced Disposal has already provided two months of service to non-paying customers prior to their garbage collection service being stopped,” said O’Brien.

In order to have the service reinstated, customers must pay the full balance of the past due account, a cart delivery fee and the next quarter’s fee for garbage collection services.

In order for residents to get the best rate possible, the county accepted bids for the exclusive rights to serve Pike County’s residents in 2003. Advanced Disposal Service (which was called Arrow Disposal Service at the time) provided the lowest bid. The contract was set to be renewed automatically every three years unless the county found that the agreement failed “to be in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of the citizens residing in Pike County.”

Termination by either party requires 90 days’ notice. O’Brien said Advanced Disposal wants to continue to service the area. “Advanced Disposal is pleased to be able to offer this service to the residents of Pike County, but cannot offer this service for free,” she said.

Each collection vehicle comes with a $250,000 price tag. The company pays disposal/landfill fees and relies on payments to make payroll and cover operational costs.

“These are just the most basic costs associated with solid waste collection,” O’Brien said. “Other costs include health and life benefits, vehicle maintenance, insurance, depreciation, administrative costs, bad debt costs and many additional costs not listed here in regards running a business,” she said.

Commissioners have no obligation to provide waste disposal. Jones said Pike County saw it as a responsibility and a necessity to offer the service.

“As long as the county is doing contracts, it will make sure that it’s done properly and in the interest of the people,” said Jones.

“If there is a problem with the contractor providing the service, I think it’s something the county would be willing to look at and see what problems exist,” he added. “The County Commission always has a responsibility to provide services and look after its citizens and it will continue to do so. And if there is an issue in the solid waste contract, rest assured we will resolve it.”