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County garbage contractor stumbles with summer cottage collection

Garbage in cottage areas is sitting uncollected as county contractor struggles to keep employees

Garbage in cottage areas is baking in the sun as it sits for days while Simcoe County’s contractor struggles to keep staff.

And all the financial penalties allowed in its seven-year contract with Progressive Waste Management won’t dampen the stench or clean up the streets, say mayors and deputy mayors from seasonal and tourist destinations.

“A lot of our residents in the summer are cottagers. They come up on the weekend and put (the garbage) out before they leave, expecting it to be picked up. When it isn’t, it becomes everyone’s garbage. There are areas where they’ve been missed one or two weeks or more,” said Wasaga Beach Mayor Brian Smith, who noted that summer isn’t the time to be missing picking up garbage from four per cent of the county’s residents.

“There are record temperatures. In areas we are quite seasonal, this is very problematic.”

County staff have been working with Progressive Waste Solutions to resolve the issue, said solid waste management director Rob McCullough. The issue boils down to staffing.

“It’s an ongoing issue, although this year has been the worst,” he said

“The summer months come and there are greener pastures for people with DZ licences, such as driving gravel trucks on construction sites. (The staff shortage) causes a snowball effect. People are working 10-plus hours or more each day and are now burnt out. Other staff are going off on leave and have strain issues.”

It takes time to recruit, hire and train staff, he explained, and in the meantime, the county has been imposing performance penalties as defined in the contract, which expires in March 2020.

“I couldn’t imagine more steps they could have taken to recruit,” said McCullough.

But county councilors – who have been taking the calls from angry seasonal residents who say they pay taxes all year for a service they use only a few months of the year, as well as year-round neighbouring businesses and residents – threw out a barrage of angry thoughts.

“I hear stories where the drivers are running and throwing the boxes back on the yard and as they drive away, the waste flies off the trucks. It’s not pretty,” said Tiny Township Mayor George Cornell.

Penetanguishene Mayor – and county warden – Gerry Marshall said Penetanguishene’s downtown was missed.

“The garbage sat out for 12 hours and my phone lit up like a Christmas tree. At least spread the pain around,” he said.

McCullough said the county focuses on more seasonal and tourist destinations for Monday and early Tuesday collections, so garbage does not sit out for days.

However, those days are proving to be the most challenging for waste collection staff.

In a letter and in discussions, Progressive Waste Solutions has told the county it is struggling with not only performance issues, but also with absenteeism and a depleted pool of standby drivers. As well, vacations and injuries further lower the staffing levels.

The company has hired a recruiting firm to assist, as well as has held job fairs and run extensive ads.

But that hasn’t proven to be enough, said McCullough.

“There will be a little more pain. Today, there are routes that are not fully manned,” he told county councilors Tuesday morning.

Essa Township Mayor – and county deputy warden – Terry Dowdall had some compassion for the drivers and the stresses they are facing.

“It’s a hard job,” he said, after speaking to three last week. “One asked if we had a job at the township roads department. There are two things that encourage people to stay on their job – time and money.

“If you don’t start paying more, people will leave,” he said to not only his fellow councilors, but two senior managers from Progressive Waste Solutions who attended Tuesday.

Innisfil Deputy-Mayor Lynn Dollin said everyone has to recognize the job is a tough one.

“I can’t image a worse job than being a garbage man in 40-degree weather,” she adding, adding the struggle to attract and keep people will become tougher if Ontario goes ahead with its guaranteed income plan.

Springwater Mayor Bill French agreed there are working conditions that need to be addressed.

“It’s their problem and they need to take care of it. Let’s be cautious of single-source contracting.”

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Laurie Watt

About the Author: Laurie Watt

A journalist with 35 years experience in newspapers, Laurie is also an active volunteer in Barrie.
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