ALBEMARLE — At the Albemarle City Council’s January 23 meeting, multiple council members expressed their discontent with the current quality of contractual work provided by Waste Management.
With the company providing trash, garbage, recycling, and landfill services to over 70 municipalities across the state, WM representatives have cited the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of commercially-licensed drivers available as reasons for service delays for leaf, limb, garbage, and recycling pickups throughout Albemarle.
“We continue to see — and I’ll just put it bluntly — terrible service,” Mayor Ronnie Michael told Marilyn Wells, WM regional manager for municipal and community relations. “Our phones are not slowing down. They are getting worse.”
Michael continued: “Our customers and residents expect and want more. They expect that as a city, and we expect that of you. We agreed to contract with you for this service. Just being honest with you, we’re not getting what we’re paying for. It isn’t about the money — it’s that we need the service to provide to our residents.”
The council has discussed both internally and publicly if WM breached its contract with the city because of the numerous delays.
“We need to figure this out, and we need to figure it out quickly,” Councilman Bill Aldridge said.
“We’ve used COVID-19, and we’ve used sickness, and we’ve used excuse after excuse after excuse,” Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall added.
Councilman Dexter Townsend noted that he was glad to see that WM representatives have been attending Albemarle City Council meetings regularly to build a better correspondence with the city: “It’s good to see some consistency from your leadership positions, but at the end of the day any way you want to look at it, the service has not improved.”
Wells responded to the council with her own take on the issue, reaffirming that the CDL shortage is compounded in North Carolina, where there have been 41,000 more retirees than those entering the market.
“On any given week, we have 22,000 service points and 22,000 stops that we will make. We are essentially a trucking company if you think about what we do,” Wells said. “Success can be found when you have the staffing that you need. In our case, the pandemic did teach us that if you have the right amount of drivers, it’s not enough — you need more than what you need because of all the what-if scenarios. When you have leadership working side by side with drivers, you also hold them more accountable, and you have the benefit of that joint comradery.”
WM Senior District Manager Travis McClung provided his input on the situation, adding that his company — during the fourth quarter of 2022 — had hired five more drivers for the area that services Albemarle. While two more drivers for the Albemarle routes have been hired this month, “we are obviously not completely where we want to be yet, but we are getting much closer,” he said.
The conversation between the council and WM wrapped up with Councilman Benton Dry requesting the company to provide written action steps for how it will remedy the services it provides to Albemarle; Wells responded by saying that she would create and send a report to City Manager Michael Ferris soon. Additionally, WM officials will give another update to the council in March to follow up on the status.
The Albemarle City Council will hold its next meeting on February 6 at 6:30 p.m.