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Plan needs action

By Staff | Apr 22, 2021

If numbers tell the story, the city of Cape Coral’s trash collection narrative can be counted among the horror genre.

According to statistics provided by City Manager Rob Hernandez Wednesday night, the city has historically received an average of little more than three complaints per day for such things as missed garbage pickup, failure to collect bulk items put to the curb and miscellaneous trash-related issues.

From 2017 to 2020, the city received, on average, about 1,195 complaints per year. In 2017, the city logged 1,321 complaints; in 2018, 1,322; in 2019 — a good year — 878; and, in all of 2020, 1,259.

In the first four and a half months of 2021, the city has received 3,654 complaints, 2,200 of them in the last month or so, officials said, adding if anything, these numbers are likely low. City officials emphasized Wednesday night that its statistics are complaints made directly to the city’s 311 Call Center only; calls made directly to the city’s solid waste collection vendor, Waste Pro, are not included.

While complaints remain high, both the city and Waste Pro agree that there has been progress and that collection has been improving since the city asked for, and the vendor implemented, an action plan.

As per that plan, Waste Pro is addressing what it says is the core issue causing the complaints — a shortage of drivers that is nationwide, and a shortage of labor staff being felt throughout Southwest Florida.

They have hired drivers, partnered with other vendors and have an aggressive employee retention and hiring plan under way that includes a bump in compensation, job fairs and advertising.

But for the members of Cape Coral City Council, Waste Pro’s enough has not been well, enough: The challenges associated with providing the services Waste Pro contracted to supply are Waste Pro’s problem, not the city of Cape Coral’s, not the residents who continue to pay for a level of service that they are not getting.

Council unanimously agreed this week to add some teeth to its still ongoing working-together-to-resolve-the-problem process.

Fines of $250 per complaint, retroactive back to March 26, are to be imposed. On April 26, the fine will increase to $500 and the amount will escalate until a maximum of $1,500 per complaint is reached, as per the terms of the city-Waste Pro contract.

To collect the fines imposed, the city will withhold money when it pays Waste Pro’s monthly billings.

The fines, although mitigated somewhat to combine related complaints into one, is a pretty drastic measure.

But it’s a health-safety-welfare issue and residents and city officials are out of patience, action plan efforts or not.

Councilmember Dan Sheppard summed things up succinctly from the city’s viewpoint, saying that what he has heard are excuses, and not a business plan as to how Waste Pro will address the issue of getting trash off city streets.

“You keep trying to come up with ideas. If it’s trash day, you have to pick it up. We shouldn’t be having this discussion or coming up with ideas for you. It’s insulting,” Councilmember Sheppard said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I haven’t heard how you would change your business plan, and I don’t see a plan that fixes the problem. I see trash everywhere from here to my home.”

Count us among those who hope Waste Pro resolves its issues with collections quickly.

Count us among those who thank the city for making this a priority.

We’ve gotten a prelude of rainy season this week, it’s getting hotter outside, and no one wants either trash or “bulk waste” like old furniture sitting at the curb during hurricane season.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden also had a salient point as both Waste Pro and city staff have come to the conclusion that the agreed-upon terms for bulk pickup — weekly residential collection on a set day without the need to request a special pickup — is not only currently problematic, it’s inherently inefficient.

The big selling point to the new Waste Pro contract was regular pickups for household goods, Councilmember Cosden pointed out, saying that while the labor pool has dried up since the agreement was signed, neither the city’s layout nor demographics have — yes there are lots of houses and lots of streets but both the vendor and city staff were well aware of this when weekly bulk collection was made a contract provision.

“I don’t know why we are surprised by the bulk pickup,” Councilmember Cosden said.

Her point?

If, as Mr. Hernandez suggests and Waste Pro says it is amendable to, the collection of household goods goes back to collection-by-request, then rates should be readjusted and the contract redone.

Residents should not have to pay for an upgraded service they will not receive, Councilmember Cosden maintains.

We agree.

And we agree the action plan submitted to the city needs a lot more action.

Residents with complaints may report them to the city’s 311 Call Center, formerly called the Citizen’s Action Center, by dialing 311.

They may also email Waste Pro directly through their web site, www.wasteprousa.com/office/cape-coral/.

— Breeze editorial