Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin told the City Council on Tuesday that staffing shortages were the root cause of recent delays in bulk trash and brush pickups throughout the city.
Woodfin was responding to a question from District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott, who said she’d received “tons of calls” from residents upset that their trash had not been picked up on schedule. “We actually have some citizens who wait until the night before, like the law says, to put all their (trash) out, and then nobody comes and picks it up,” she said.
Woodfin said that he had discussed the issue with public works employees, “and what they shared was that it’s not just an equipment problem … We’re short truck drivers.”
The city has worked to improve retention and recruitment in that department, Woodfin said, and has increased the pay rate for bulk trash truck drivers. Even so, the city has had to decrease its bulk trash pickup schedule from twice a month to every three weeks.
Now, Woodfin said, the city is focused on communication, with plans to use social media, the city’s website and 311 services “to communicate to the public and actually be vulnerable and honest enough to say, ‘We missed this date. We’ll make it up to you. We’ll be back.’”
“I expect that gap in hiring will close at some point,” he added. “I expect a lot of this to ease up.”
“We’re still in trouble, but thank you,” Abbott replied.
Woodfin also urged residents to be patient about the city’s schedule for clearing blighted or overgrown properties, though he noted that was not a personnel issue.
“There’s an expectation that the city of Birmingham government is responsible for cutting your neighbor’s private, empty lot,” he said. “We’re not responsible. However, what we do is start a legal process to go onto private property. … That process takes up to 10 weeks.”
There are roughly 6,500 overgrown lots on the city’s queue to be cut, he said. “I think we all know the number of horticulture employees we have, and even with the amount of private contractors (we hire), getting to 6,500 lots in a short time is not realistic. It’s going to take some time. But I’m saying all that to say that these fundamental things we are concerned about, we are addressing. We will continue to address them.”