Albemarle City Council frustrated with Waste Management service

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2023

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Council members and other Albemarle officials continue to field numerous complaints from residents about the current services provided by Waste Management (WM).

During Monday’s city council meeting, council members expressed frustration about the services provided by the company, which provides trash, garbage, recycling and landfill support to 74 municipalities across North Carolina, according to its website.

“We continue to see terrible service,” Mayor Ronnie Michael told Marilyn Wells, regional manager for municipal and community relations with WM, noting leaf and limb pickups have been weeks behind schedule. “Our phones are not slowing down. They are getting worse.

“Our customers, our residents, expect and want more,” he added. “We are not getting what we paid for.”

Echoing similar frustrations, council members thanked Wells for coming to the meeting but talked about the urgency of needing to resolve these long-lasting problems.

Councilman Dexter Townsend highlighted the inconsistencies of items not getting picked up from week to week.

“One week, it might be loose leaves. The next week it might be solid waste. The next week is recycling,” he said.

“Somebody has to be responsible,” he added. “We’re not getting the services that we contracted with you all for.”

Wells, who has spoken before council at prior meetings, mentioned that some of the problems stem from lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of commercially-licensed drivers, which was most acute last summer.

With WM drivers making 22,000 stops in Albemarle on any given week, “we are essentially a trucking company when you think about what we do,” Wells said, noting that from a logistics standpoint, it does matter that there is stability within the positions.

About eight to nine people serve Albemarle during leaf season and WM is authorized to hire two more additional employees, which would allow for more flexibility if someone is out sick or on vacation.

“Success can be found when you have the staffing that you need,” Wells said, noting the pandemic taught the company that even more drivers were needed in order to be as successful as possible.

November and December were especially challenging when it came to leaf collection because leaves fell earlier than in past years and, with increased rainfall, they became harder to collect, she said. WM also did not have access to people outside of the district that could have helped due to extra workers being needed in Florida after Hurricane Nicole.

While staff shortages were a problem for much of last year, the situation improved during the last few months, due to recruiting efforts, WM officials said. In the fourth quarter of 2022, WM hired 22 people in the Charlotte market, including five drivers in the area that services Albemarle, WM Senior District Manager Travis McClung said. In January, an additional 10 people have been hired including two drivers in Albemarle.

Of the seven newly hired drivers, three have completed training and been assigned routes.

“You ask, ‘when is it going to get better?’ ” McClung said. “We say staffing was the problem before and our new drivers are already on staff.”

WM still has a few vacant positions that need to be filled but “while we are obviously not completely where we want to be yet, we are getting much closer,” McClung said.

Despite the optimistic assurances from the WM officials, Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall said the company still was in breach of its contract with the city because the necessary services have not been met.

As someone who has been on council for many years, the services provided by WM are “worse now than it has ever been,” Hall said.

When asked by Councilman Bill Aldridge if similar issues have occurred within other municipalities that WM serves, Wells said the problems impacted Albemarle are not “uncommon,” mainly due to the shortage of drivers last year.

Councilman Benton Dry asked WM to come up with written action steps for how the company will improve the services it provides to the city. Wells said she will send the report to City Manager Michael Ferris later this week.

Hall asked that WM officials provide another update to council during one of its March meetings.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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