If they noticed nothing else about city government this year, one thing likely caught the attention of nearly 60,000 Augusta households: the rocky change from semiweekly garbage pickup to weekly in June.
Associated issues – missing garbage and recycling containers, weeks of missed pickups, overturned cans, lids left open, unwanted mandatory service and a fee that did not decrease with the frequency – sent many frustrated homeowners to report the upheaval in their weekly routines.
Augusta 311 Director Kelli Walker, whose department was created from the former Augusta Cares in part to handle the transition, said the office was receiving nearly 1,200 calls a day, most of them related to garbage pickup, during the first week of service.
Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson initially warned that educating residents about their new service day was the biggest obstacle, but city officials later acknowledged other challenges.
Several local minority-owned waste haulers were left out of the new garbage contract, but one of two new primary haulers, Advanced Disposal, began entirely new routes June 3. There appeared to be no dress rehearsal.
“You couple that with brand-new trucks, new drivers, a new system and customers that are learning their new day of the week – this is a monumental undertaking,” Johnson said during the first week of changed service.
Augusta required haulers in the new contract to power trucks using the compressed natural gas the city sells. The trucks, an effort to reduce pollution, use robotic arms to empty containers and require only a single operator. That caused another unforeseen problem: lids left open on garbage containers.
“It hasn’t gone as smoothly as they thought it was going to,” Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said last week. His constituents in District 2 continue to report missed pickups, he said.
Augusta Commission member Joe Jackson said most, but not all, issues had been resolved. Phasing in the changes and allowing haulers to maintain previous routes, if they had them, might have helped, Jackson said.
“It’s like changing your mail route. When you get a different guy, he’s going to miss your house,” he said.
A bright side, Johnson said, is that residents are recycling more and taking advantage of Recycling Perks, an online service that rewards customers with coupons and discounts for recycling. Discounts available last week covered golf, ice skating, carpet cleaning, lawn care, restaurants and other goods and services.