I read with interest a recent article in the MDJ: “Trash pickup a headache for Cobb residents, county official says” (MDJ Monday, 2/1/21). Bill Tanks, Public Services Director, is correct in saying it is an issue front and center with the public. In 2020, my assistant Kim and I could barely keep up with the emails, phone calls and frustration of constituents concerning the unacceptable level of service provided by their trash haulers. What we found is a problem much larger than one solved with a simple franchise fee fix.
As the article stated, back in 1999 Cobb had over 60 haulers many which were small family run businesses. Over time that number was reduced as landfill and dump fees increased forcing many of the small haulers to sellout to the larger carriers. Then in 2019 and early 2020 there was a major effort by the large haulers to purchase many of the large hauling contracts that served major subdivisions like Indian Hills.
That’s when the complaints began. When Kim and I looked into the issue we found that these haulers did not have the resources or the personnel to handle their new acquisitions. We found that labor issues were a driving factor in the lack of service and pay was the number one issue.
We have been lucky to have outstanding service provided by a small independent hauler. They come twice a week, come up the driveway and do recycling once a week. That level of service is not the norm. During 2020 Kim and I would refer people to my carrier for help.
Unfortunately, most were told the hauler simply did not have the resources to provide a satisfactory level of service so they could not take on more routes. I appreciate a business owner who is upfront and will only take on business that they can successfully provide. We found that was not the case last year when these large haulers were buying up contracts just to acquire market share.
I have concerns when I read about the proposals presented to the commissioners at last week’s retreat. The proposals, according to the owners of the small hauling companies, will drive them out of business. It is not an acceptable solution if it drives the haulers doing a good job out of business and rewards the large haulers with the residents now forced to search for a new hauler. The result would be mediocre service for all, and I believe a huge bureaucracy trying to manage the haulers. Since Kim and I had a hard time keeping up with the residents of one district, how many county employees, or hired consultants would it take to manage the entire county? The added costs of a franchise and the county employees is going to one place: the citizens of Cobb County.
In talking with Bill Tanks, I believe that the first step is to bring together all the haulers and some citizens representatives to determine what an acceptable level of service should be, how to monitor it, and what type of franchise fee or other stipend needs to be applied moving forward. I believe it is unacceptable to drive the haulers providing good service out of business because of mismanagement by the large haulers.
Clearly, this issue is of critical importance to everyone in Cobb County and needs to be addressed. Something needs to be done to ensure that the residents of Cobb have reliable, affordable and safe trash pickup. However, it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t result in driving the good haulers out of business.