Fort Wayne City Council members Dec. 4 asked pointed questions of a city representative over what they saw as not holding the trash company liable when thousands of customers are complaining of missed pickups.

Matt Gratz, the city’s solid waste manager, was on the receiving end of their inquiries about contractor Red River Waste Solutions. Red River was the low bidder of $6.96 million for the city’s 7-year contract for weekly garbage and biweekly recycling pickups that started Jan. 2. However, for months, hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of the 82,000 customers each week have reported missed pickups.

An average of 657 customers reported misses in November, down from 2,200 in October, Gratz said. Its goal is 83 complaints, a figure some council members believed was extremely low.

Gratz felt things were moving in a positive direction, especially with the new routes implemented last month and three new drivers starting next week for Red River. The company has said part of the problem is drivers leaving for other companies.

Gratz told council members that so far, the city has assessed $542,500 in fines against Red River for trash misses and $167,500 for recycling misses, but “if they can’t meet payroll, their expenses, that may be worse.”

However, Councilman At-large John Crawford took issue with the city spending nearly $100,000 on a consultant on the contract when the city was only fining Red River a quarter of the amount outlined in the contract.

“We want to get the garbage picked up,” Gratz said. “If we fine them the full amount you, could possibly get garbage not picked up at all. If they can’t meet their expenses, their payroll … it could make things worse.”

Adrienne Maurer, a member of the Mayor’s Working Group on Garbage and Recycling, created in August because of the missed pickups, accompanied Gratz at council’s committee session. Members believed that the fines assessed so far had not made the company more efficient. Instead, all it did was take dollars out of its pockets.

The group also decided against Mayor Tom Henry’s suggestion of a rebate to consumers because that wouldn’t improve service, Maurer said.

The committee, which includes representatives from neighborhoods, the solid waste department and Red River along with City Council members Tom Didier, R-3rd, and Jason Arp, R-4th, wanted to wait until the end of December to reassess Red River’s performance, Gratz said.

“This has gone on long enough,” said Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, who wanted to know what it would take for the administration to find Red River in breach of contract.

Gratz said he couldn’t answer that.

Michael Barranda, at-large, an attorney, said, “In order for us to declare a breach of contract the company has to walk away.”

The city must enforce the fines. Otherwise, Red River has no incentive to walk away, he said.

Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, asked Gratz to investigate if some of the money from the fines could be used for a temporary staffer. He estimated that a quarter of council’s staff time is spent on Red River complaints.

Next council meeting

Council’s last committee meeting and regular session of the year will begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday on the Garden Level of Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St. Anyone wishing to speak must contact the city clerk or committee chairman in advance. The meetings are live-streamed at www.cityoffortwayne.org/meetings.html and are also available for viewing later.

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