FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — City attorneys said almost half of Red River Waste Solutions drivers were out last week, but the embattled trash collector should be caught up by the end of this week.
City crews and trucks are being used to assist. Seven city trucks have been picking up trash day and night and even weekends, attorneys for Fort Wayne said.
In a Q&A with council members that lasted more than an hour, the city attorneys said the city has no quick options to improve service. The plan is to start the process to find a new provider, but that will take four to six months. In the meantime, Red River will continue servicing Fort Wayne during the transition time.
“I thought they’d say we’d go to Earth First on a part-time basis or Republic on a part-time basis, but it doesn’t seem they thought that possibility through,” Councilman Glynn Hines, D-At Large, said.
“There simply are no nationally qualified providers ready to step in,” Fort Wayne City Corporation Attorney Timothy Haffner, said. “That would be wonderful. I just can’t tell you that would happen.”
To keep Red River picking up trash, the city also will have to pay it more money. WANE 15 first reported in December last year about the city’s $1.7 million claim against Red River’s insurance company. Tuesday night the city attorneys said the money from that settlement would be used to supplement Red River during the transition.
“I don’t like the fact that we’re taking the dollars that we fined them and giving it back to them,” Hines said.
Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, said it’s like paying ransom to “our captor.”
“It’s not our desire to simply continue to compensate Red River, but to receive quality service and assure through the contract that we can get. This isn’t ransom. It’s just the reality that we have to keep someone in business who has the capability to service us,” Haffner said.
The city says there’s no other option.
“We do want trash picked up and I wish I could believe that if we infuse cash in Red River that it would hold them up, but I’m concerned,” Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, D-6th, said. “Deep inside, I’m like, it’s kind of disappointing that that’s really the best we are able to do. Not because of lack of trying or the very hard work on the city’s side, but just because we have a collection of bad choices.”
The city said in the transition time to a new provider, city crews will continue to help collect when needed and Red River can still be fined for bad service.
“I wish [the city] would have the empathy to understand you can’t say more Red River and not address the service issues and when we pressed them on that it was bizarre that they think Red River 2.0 would be different than Red River 1.0,” Jehl said.
“If service is unacceptable, we’ll simply withhold from future payments the monies it would take to compensate the city for the support service it provides,” Haffner said.
The settlement with the surety Argonaut Insurance Company still has to be approved as part of Red River’s bankruptcy. Haffner hopes there will be a hearing within a few weeks. They city will also start working on the bidding process for the next provider.
Fort Wayne City Attorney Carol Helton added in the council meeting that when looking for that next trash collector, the city will focus more on the “responsive and responsible” part of the requirements set out in state law and not just the lowest bidder. Cities don’t have to accept the lowest bid, if they can document the reasons why a higher bid is more “responsive and responsible.”
The lawyers confirmed earlier WANE 15 reports that Red River underbid the contract and loses money on its Fort Wayne contract every month. That’s why the city has to use the settlement money to supplement Red River during the time it takes to find a new provider.
As part of the bankruptcy, Red River could reject the Fort Wayne contract – which would mean services would stop and the city would be left without anyone to pick up the trash. Haffner explained that the settlement deal with Argo would keep Red River in place, noting bad service is better than no service.