Perhaps one of the biggest controversies for Leesburg residents this year came over the summer when the Town of Leesburg switched its trash and recycling provider. Complaints became commonplace and a change in collection schedule, from pickup twice a week to only once a week was a sticking point for many.
But almost half a year into the first of seven years of the contract, town staff members are sounding a hopeful note that the initial kinks have been worked out.
Renee LaFollette, director of the town’s Public Works and Capital Projects Department, on Monday night presented the Town Council with an update. She noted that the new contractor, Patriot Disposal, had a tough going initially. Although the new fiscal year started July 1, the initial plan was for the previous contractor, Waste Management, to continue with trash and recycling operations in town until September.
However, when the town and Waste Management could not come to an agreement—Waste Management wanted an additional $80,000 per month to continue operation—Patriot was thrust into service faster than expected. This meant the contractor had to lease trucks that were not equipped with the proper GPS systems and untrained staff had a baptism by fire of sorts, scrambling to get accustomed to the town routes, among other initial problems. Excessive summer heat also played a part in some days being cut short, or pickups pushed into the next day.
Distribution of the roll out trash and recycling containers also was a challenge, with Patriot needing to distribute two lidded containers to more than 11,000 Leesburg residences. Some residents were not happy with the size of the containers assigned to their single-family homes, so about 6 percent are getting replacement containers, LaFollette said. Those exchanges are expected to be completed by next week.
One of the biggest “misses,” LaFollette acknowledged, was with the collection of old trash cans. Residents were able to keep the old cans, use them for yard waste or other uses, or put them out for Patriot to take with the trash.
“The Patriot crews, in some cases, did take the wrong cans,” she said. “To our knowledge they have remedied those,” with either replacement of cans or reimbursement.
While some residents still raise objections to the change from twice to once a week collection— a practice, LaFollette emphasized, that had only been in existence in town for five years—largely it seems that many problems of the past have been rectified.
There’s been a significant reduction in missed pick-ups, down now to only about two a day. With the town’s previous contractor, particularly within the last year of the contract, in some cases entire streets or neighborhoods were being missed, LaFollette said. Having trash and recycling collected on the same day and yard waste town-wide on Mondays has decreased the number of complaint calls and increased efficiency, she said. And the addition of lidded recycling containers has cut down on neighborhood litter.
“I can’t tell you how many HOAs have contacted us to say how much cleaner the neighborhoods are,” LaFollette said.
With Patriot taking over all customer service functions, it’s also been a significant time savings for the town staff, she added.
Over the course of the seven-year contract, the town is expected to save more than $200,000. The collection bins are costly, at $2 million alone over seven years, but the town will own the bins at the end of the contract, LaFollette said.
Going forward, LaFollette said the town plans to continue meeting every other month with the contractor to go over any issues that may have arisen. One item in particular that LaFollette has her eye on is the “skyrocketing” cost of recycling, which she is estimating will rise significantly just by the end of the first year of the contract alone. And the addition of more homes in town, now estimated to be around 200 new homes annually, will mean future increases to the contract, she cautioned.
Council members were largely praiseworthy of the strides made by Patriot and town staff in adjusting to the new contract, and relayed mostly positive feedback from residents. One item that Mayor Kelly Burk suggested deserved further scrutiny was in the area of bulk pickup. She noted a recent instance where she was quoted $35 to pick up a small vanity. LaFollette noted that some items fall under construction debris, with different costs and stipulations assigned for pick-up. She noted that adding construction debris to household trash items would cause the cost of the contract to rise.
“What I’m really afraid of is we’re going to start getting dump sites around the town…because we’re charging too much for these particular items,” Burk said. “I think that’s very shortsighted of us and we’re going to regret it. I’d like to see a solution to that.”
But Town Manager Kaj Dentler cautioned against significant changes to the trash contract, or to the routine of how trash can be disposed or picked up in town.
“The more exceptions, we’re creating a failure situation,” he said. “The complaints will increase.”