Jefferson County Commission

New Garbage Service in Unincorporated Jefferson Has Rocky Start

Rick Sweeney, vice president of operations for Amwaste, which recently took over garbage service in unincorporated Jefferson County. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens said ‘I told you so’ when it came to a new waste disposal company’s roll out of service to unincorporated Jefferson County.

Since Amwaste took over April 1, customers have complained of missed pickups, undelivered garbage carts, errantly taken carts and confusion about contracting with the new company.

Rick Sweeney, vice president of operations for Amwaste, spoke to commissioners during their committee meeting Tuesday about their experience of taking over the service from another vendor. Stephens, in turn, told Sweeney about the daily calls he has received since Amwaste replaced Waste Management, which purchased previous provider Advanced Disposal.

Complaint calls varied widely, Sweeney said.

“We had a fairly healthy amount of customers who had not been, as we understood, on the original customer listing that we had received from Waste Management/Advanced,” he said. “We had about 225, 230 accounts that are brand new. They were calling to set up service and then request delivery of a cart.”

Several calls — “probably the lion’s share,” Sweeney said — were associated with current customers who were waiting for carts to be delivered, along with customers who said personal garbage containers were taken away when the old WasteManagement carts were picked up. Many callers complained about missed services from the past week.

Sweeney said Amwaste hired a vendor to deliver carts, but some glitches created the impression that they were on pace to accomplish their goal of complete cart delivery by March 31.

“To be honest with you, we initially thought that we would have been done the week prior,” he said.

Deputy County Manager Cal Markert accepted blame for a lack of communication that left many customers confused. He said later that he should have asked Amwaste to help spread the word to customers. Customers contract directly with the company, rather than the county providing the service.

Stephens, whose district has most of Amwaste’s customers, said his office has received complaints. Those complaints have included reports of customers having to wait on hold for 30 minutes before getting answers to their questions.

“These citizens are expecting results, and they don’t look to you,” Stephens said. “They don’t know you from Adam’s house cat. They don’t know Cal but they do know their elected official. They’re depending on us to get this done.

Stephens later recounted that he would have been committing “political suicide” had he not agreed to replace Waste Management. But he added that a smooth rollout of the new company was essential, and that did not happen.

“That worst-case scenario that I predicted back in August appeared to play out the last week of March and now through April 6,” he said. “It’s one of those cases where ‘I told you so’ costs everyone and there is no satisfaction or pleasure in being able to say I was right. But dammit, I was.”

Updates on Development Issues

The committee meeting included a presentation from Innovation Depot CEO Drew Honeycutt, who spoke about the Depot’s three initiatives —Vision ID, Voltage and Velocity — to help entrepreneurs organize and develop a business.

Commissioners also saw a presentation from the Development Services Department director, Derek Burr, and others about the digital alternatives that have been put in place for residents to apply for building permits, submit site plans, apply for permits and conduct other business.

“You can do all of this through our online portal,” Burr said. “You can pay online so we never really need to have you come down here at all. Again, you can do all of this 24-7 from the comfort of your home in your office.”

In other business, Commissioner Steve Ammons, who chairs the commission’s development committee, told the committee about Buffalo Rock’s Monday presentation to the Industrial Development Board concerning its Project Bold.

“They were looking for incentives to expand where they currently are,” he said. “They’re keeping their current location — it’s half in Homewood and half in Birmingham over there off West Oxmoor — and they’re expanding to the old Bruno’s warehouse over there in the industrial park off of Lakeshore. They’re going to expand what they do there, eventually build new product and their own bottles.”

Ammons said the move is projected to produce 50 new jobs with an average salary of $20 an hour.

On another matter, Ammons said DC BLOX had purchased the remainder of the old Trinity Steel property in North Titusville.

“They haven’t fully decided what they’re going to do with it yet but it’s good to get that property sold,” he said. “The county and the city split the proceeds. That was purchased back when Sheila Smoot was on the commission. It took a while but there’s actually a nice gain off of that. It’s paid off.”