The city-parish’s garbage contractor apologized Wednesday for its recent poor performance and pledged to hire more drivers, update its fleet and leave in place a twice-a-week trash collection schedule popular with the public.

“We have not lived up to our own high standards and expectations of the city-parish leaders,” Karla Swacker, Republic Services’ municipal marketing manager, told reporters during a City Hall news conference Wednesday. “It’s frustrating and unacceptable.”

East Baton Rouge Parish pays Republic $26 million annually to pick up residential trash and recyclable materials at about 135,000 households. Swacker said Wednesday the company will provide better oversight to its operations and will spend about $1.8 million this year to update vehicles.

So far this year, the city-parish has received more than 3,300 garbage complaints from residents through its 311 call center and an additional 701 complaints about missed recycling pick-ups, city-parish officials said. For all of 2018, the city-parish logged nearly 6,000 complaints for garbage service and nearly 1,000 for recycling.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, who with Metro Council members also heard several complaints from the public, demanded Republic address the recent troubles. Broome said she will evaluate Republic’s response in a month and consider whether the city’s pact with Republic should change.

“I have not been pleased and neither have our residents,” she said. “The contract gives us different steps we can take if we do not feel they are in compliance.”

The city-parish current contract with the trash company began March 1, 2018 and won’t end until Feb. 28, 2023. The contract can be extended another five years with council approval.

The contract includes a termination clause giving the city-parish the option to dissolve the agreement with written, 10-day notice.

Swacker blamed the recent decline in service on a “confluence” of things: Baton Rouge’s traffic, a driver shortage and breakdowns in its aged fleet of garbage trucks. All occurred during the heavier yard waste season that occurs every spring, Swacker said.

She also said some problems couldn’t be blamed on Republic. It is not responsible for picking up trash dumped on vacant lots or placed curbside by construction and landscape contractors, who like other businesses must find other means to haul off waste.

Swacker said Republic has already hired six new drivers and have an additional nine either in training or in interviews. Six new trucks are ready to enter service, and the company has hired a subcontractor to relieve some of the workload on routes and respond to complaints.

According to the company’s plan Republic has pledged to:

• Integrate the new drivers on routes starting Friday; more will begin on July 5 and the company will increase recruiting.

• Implement a six – to nine-week driver training program and weekly driver performance evaluations.

• Streamline response and communication with the city-parish on service issues reported through the parish’s 311 call center; hold drivers more accountable in addressing those issues.

• Hire two more supervisors to oversee service obligations to the parish.

• Replace four garbage trucks in 2020 and four more in 2021; improve fleet maintenance schedules and repair quality

• Provide weekly updates on route delays and other issues

• Implement a public education campaign regarding complaint versus non-compliant debris, proper cart loading and replacement, recyclable goods and service days.

Kelvin Hill, an assistant chief administrative officer for the city-parish, said he has established a set of metrics and evaluation measures with Republic to measure performance going forward.

“That’s something we haven’t had in the past,” he said. “Our plan is to sit down with Republic on a weekly basis to review those indicators (and) talk immediately about what we’re going to do to close any gaps.”

Swacker indicated revamping trash routes and/or switching up collection days and times is also up for discussion when it comes to improving service. But she added that discussion wouldn’t involve scaling back the parish’s twice-a-week trash schedule, something city-parish leaders have already said would be unpopular.

“These service days were set up in 1995,” she said. “A lot has changed since then. Traffic is so significantly different than it was before.”

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