Republic Services recently marked one-month of serving Toledo since it took full control of the city’s waste services Aug. 15.
Although the private waste management and garbage collection company has just moved to Toledo, there was interest in Republic taking over the city’s waste twice in the past.
The first privatization opportunity came in 1997. Although it was never acted upon, Republic Sales Manager Paul Rasmusson said he knew it could be done. With the city facing a labor problem 11 years later, Rasmusson came back to Toledo with Allied Waste, Republic’s previous name.
“When I returned to Toledo they were facing some labor strife and they turned to Allied Waste and asked if we could pick some routes up. It was just a natural transition to start the consideration to start privatization,” Rasmusson said.
That experience turned into a bid opportunity when a request for proposals was issued later in 2008. With a 30-day window to complete such a massive proposal, only Allied Waste was able to turn in a bid.
“We were the only one that responded,” Rasmusson said. “We were talking [to each other] through this so we were at the forefront. The proposal was out there and was being considered for seven to nine months until it was finally voted down.”
Full privatization was not in the cards in 2008, but City Council discussed the possibility of giving a portion of the city to a private entity to see how it would function compared to the city-run system.
Ultimately, two issues were the biggest obstacles blocking the transfer of services to private hands — layoffs and trucks.
Allied’s plans included moving toward an automated fleet of trucks, which would eliminate the two sanitation workers in the back of the truck.
“To privatize there are a lot of checkmarks you have to go down and make sure they are covered,” Rasmusson said. “In the City of Toledo, no one wanted to have anyone’s job displaced.”
Change at the top
In 2011, with Mayor Mike Bell now in office, Allied Waste, now Republic Services, returned to Toledo.
“When Mike Bell came into the administration, some of the players had moved and I received a phone call from one of the directors who wanted to do some exploring on how they can save some money,” Rasmusson said. “It just started a dialogue.”
The original two issues had also been faced by the city since Republic’s previous privatization bid. Toledo had moved toward automated vehicles, which caused layoffs.
The dialogue transformed into Republic taking the entirety of the waste pickup in the city, which was described by Rasmusson as “one of the larger privatization takeovers from a public to a private entity that occurred at one time.” Republic also serves Indianapolis, but only took about 90 percent in the beginning. Around the nation, Republic serves 2,800 municipalities.
To help ease the transition of Republic taking 95,000 customers in Toledo, the business scheduled weekly meetings with the city. Among the major issues were one-way streets and bulk pickup. They were aided by the new automated trucks, which not only sped up collection but also allowed a new type of employee to join the company.
“The automated trucks opened up a different employee for us,” General Manager of Republic Services David Vossmer said. “Typically if you were strong and you could throw bags of trash for 900 customers a day you could make it. But now, with the automated [system] you didn’t have to be the bulky guy on the block. With that automated arm it’s like a joystick just working your computer at home. It’s helping the wear and tear of employees. It gave us a bigger pool of employees to pull from and some very good employees.”
With winter approaching, Vossmer and Republic remind Toledoans that if a problem occurs, they can help.
“We will work with you,” Vossmer said. “Just give us a call and let us know that and when the snow flies and if you have issues then or if you have issues now, we will take care of that for you.”
Republic began its “My Republic Rewards” program Aug. 25. It is designed to reward citizens for recycling. Among the benefits are coupons to places including Imagination Station, The Toledo Zoo, Quiznos and The Andersons. The company’s hope is that the rewards program will help encourage citizens to recycle. In the first week, 10,000 citizens joined the program.
“The phones received unprecedented phone call volume,” Rasmusson said. “We want to keep that momentum moving so that people continue to sign up.”