Council holds briefing on trash, recycling overhaul
Once-a-week collection, other problems discussed
The Prince George’s County Council held a briefing on trash and recycling overhaul Tuesday at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, addressing residents’ concerns about problems with trash pick up and litter strewn about the area.
More than 30 people attended the open meeting which included presentations and remarks from Department of Environment Director Adam Ortiz and Deputy Director Joseph Gill, as well as 311 Call Center Office of Community Relations Director Musa L. Eubanks.
“We had a number of folks, all over my district, email and call about, ‘The door hanger said my day was this day or it didn’t match what’s [on the online map] and then they came on a different day,’” said Councilman Mel Franklin (D), whose areas include Accokeek, Aquasco, Baden, Brandywine, Cheltenham, Clinton,
Eagle Harbor, Fort Washington, Piscataway and Upper Marlboro. “What was sort of the cause of that issue? That happened quite a bit across the county.”
In response, Ortiz said what most likely happened is that in some cases, several of the haulers had multiple routes and may have mixed up the areas and deliveries.
“I can’t say with certainty. I’m just sort of guessing, Mr. Franklin,” Ortiz said.
Franklin read aloud a Clinton resident’s question regarding how valid calls and complaints are obtained from different geographic areas in the county. He asked Ortiz whether that information comes from the county Click 311 system, forwarded emails, phone calls, etc.
“We have a master map, the [Geographic Information System] GIS map,” Ortiz said. “It’s exportable. That’s the information that we work with the haulers to get as the new boundaries were consolidated and made more efficient. That information was taken and shared with them early on during the legislative process. For the most part, I’m pretty confident that our GIS information was accurate.”
“They provided maps to us and for our review, basically to show us how many houses they would be doing in each day, in each of the service ar- eas,” added Gill. “Even before that, as part of leading up to the contract approvals, we provided training for all of the contractors in terms of how to do once-aweek, same day trash and recycling pick up. … Going into it, we wanted to make sure we had maps from all the haulers, what they’re going to do each day of the week in each of the service areas and then we had inspectors that have gone out and would actually do area reviews to make sure areas are picked up.”
Gill said the environment department made a great effort to get the maps and routes approved to make sure everyone was on board before trash collection began.
“The dry runs would have occurred during the two weeks beforehand when they had to distribute all of the door hangers,” Gill said.
When it comes to pick up days, Franklin said he received a lot of complaints from residents.
“A lot of folks do cooking out or they do social things on the weekend. They didn’t have a lot of trash earlier in the week and that trash stays with them until the end of the week,” Franklin said. “What is the rationale for the pick up days that have been selected?”
Ortiz said the haulers worked together to find out what made the most sense based on historic areas where they’ve been.
“There’s always going to be somebody who’s closer to the beginning of the week and somebody who’s closer to the end of the week,” he said. “There’s only so many houses and only so many days of the week. We regret that some people have a pick up on Friday, but most likely now we have other people that don’t have pick up on Friday.”
Franklin asked about the pick up days for different areas throughout the county.
“They all have pick up Tuesday through Friday and then yard waste on Monday. So every service area has Tuesday through Friday pickups,” Gill said.
Franklin then asked how a problem is identified and how one goes about ensuring that data is accurate.
“Is it completely complaint driven or do you have an assessment tool?,” he said.
Ortiz said everyday operations are complaint driven except for certain areas where there have been consistent problems.
“We have way too much litter in District 9. Perhaps it’s not as noticeable because we’re so large, I don’t know,” Franklin said. “We have a large amount of pass-through traffic on Branch Avenue, on Pennsylvania Avenue as well as [Route] 210 which attracts a lot of litter. … That’s something that I would encourage revisiting.”
Speaking of way too much litter, Councilwoman Karen R. Toles (D) asked Ortiz when Suitland, one of six communities identified under the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, would receive toters as residents have been complaining of trash being everywhere.
“I live there and it’s trash everywhere on my street. I’m tired of it,” Toles said. “That’s one of the county executive’s TNI communities so I would imagine that would be one of the first areas you would take care of.”
Ortiz said Suitland should receive toters within the next four to six weeks as they are being distributed sequentially across the region.
“Our priorities are the denser, inner Beltway areas. TNI communities are certainly among them,” he said. “They’re in the first part of the rollout. The greatest efficiency in the rollout is to go sequentially-geographically from area to area. My understanding is that we’ve already done one of the TNI areas, Glassmanor, and one of the next ones are both the Suitland and Hillcrest Heights TNI areas as well. We’re not there yet but it’s among our priority community areas.”
Toles said residents can’t afford to wait that long as other TNI communities, including Coral Hills and Hillcrest Heights, have also complained of too much litter.
“It’s just not a good representation,” Toles said. “I’m hearing that when people call, they are getting told that they just had a bulk trash pick up so they could not pick it up again. That may be leading to additional trash in the com- munity and more litter being dumped.”
“We agree that litter is probably the biggest environmental issue facing this county,” Ortiz said.
According to a collections overhaul rollout overview packet from the county’s environment department, there were about 1,323 valid complaints earlier this year in May compared to just 504 complaints in May 2015.
As far as oversight and responsiveness, a presentation from the county Click 311 Call Center’s community relations office shows that a decline in staffing has led to more problems. There are only 14 call takers for this fiscal year compared to 18, 17 and 24 call takers in fiscal years 2015, 2014 and 2013, respectively.
To improve its services, the center will create a tracking team to perform agency and citizen follow-up; purchase a call monitoring and recording tool; add more team members; and launch a new and improved Customer Relationship Management system, according to Eubanks.
“An increase of staff is going to be the biggest issue,” Eubanks said. “Is that going to get us to where we want to be overall industry standards? It’s really going to depend on the call volume. I’ll certainly be the first to come to this council and let you know if it does not and if we need more people to give the citizens the service they deserve.”