As if the city of Fort Wayne’s problems with Red River Waste Solutions aren’t bad enough, now the rapid spread of COVID-19 is making them worse. The city sent out a news release Jan. 11 that said 32% of Red River’s drivers are out sick.

Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, said he’d heard only 50% of the garbage is being picked up currently. Council members and the city’s 311 non-emergency call center are being inundated with calls about missed garbage pickups.

Mayor Tom Henry’s administration and City Council worked together to ask the Indiana General Assembly to consider changes to the solid waste bidding process.

A resolution was introduced at the Jan. 11 City Council meeting to request that the Indiana General Assembly change state law to allow municipalities to use a request for proposals (RFP) process for solid waste and recycling services.

Currently, Indiana Code requires local governments to contract with private companies for trash collection and requires such contracts to be awarded to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder.

By changing it to an RFP, council could choose which company members believe would do the best job; they wouldn’t be required to pick the company with the lowest bid.

Resolution R-22-01-10 was introduced at the Jan. 11 meeting, and was supposed to be discussed and voted on that night. It was introduced, but taken off the agenda for discussion and voting.

Fort Wayne’s current garbage and recycling contracts would not be impacted.

Jehl said the public needs more information than a news release. He plans to invite someone from the administration to update council at Jan. 18’s meeting.

The city did send out a news release on Jan. 11 updating the situation with Red River. It explained the high incidence of COVID cases among Red River employees as well as city Street Department employees who help with after-hours collections.

The city instructed residents to put out their trash on their regularly scheduled day, even though currently collections are a day-and-a-half to two days behind. The city asked for patience from the public. It expects these delays to last for the next few weeks.

“Plans are being worked on to try to get the current challenges corrected in light of the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings involving Red River and the ongoing labor shortage,” the news release states.

The city and Red River signed a seven-year, $6.96 million contract in 2017. When Red River started providing service on Jan. 2, 2018, problems started almost immediately.

Residents flooded phone lines with complaints about missed pickups. The amounts of missed stops for garbage and recycling exceeded standards set for the company and resulted in fines, some of which it is still owed.

Red River filed for bankruptcy Oct. 15 in a Texas court.

Fort Wayne attorney Carol Helton sent a letter to Red River and its insurance company notifying them that the city will seek to terminate its contract and that the city expects damages from Red River’s performance failures to exceed the penal sum under a bond of $4.9 million.

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