As the weather has warmed and yard care has kicked into high gear, complaints from Macon residents have piled up like the mounds of curbside limbs, leaves and other debris they’ve called to report.
Willard McCrary is an 88-year-old retiree from the Georgia Department of Labor, the victim of a mild stroke who said he needs help keeping his yard tidy at his west Macon home. He said his yard debris piled up at the curb for about six weeks, where it sat despite calls he and his nephew made to various city officials. “I know they lost some employees recently,” McCrary said, referring to the 31 employees laid off early this year, “but the people are paying a fee to have (the debris) picked up.”
When a crew finally came out, they did “a good job,” he said, but crews haven’t picked up the debris in front of other houses in the neighborhood.
McCrary and his neighbors aren’t alone. In just the last month, the city of Macon’s customer service line has logged 87 calls about yard debris pickup — or, more accurately, the lack thereof.
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City officials say they know there is a problem, and largely admit it’s their fault.
“This is a case where we ran into a perfect storm that’s pretty much of our own making,” said mayoral spokesman Andrew Blascovich. The pickup lag time involved a combination of factors made worse when the city failed to notify the public in advance about changes to the city’s garbage and yard debris pickup routes, he said.
Though the changes came in early April, Blascovich didn’t send out information until April 26. The route changes were accompanied by a new program to pick up yard debris separately from regular solid waste to preserve space in the city’s landfill. During the past month, the city has kept an estimated 380 tons of yard debris out of the landfill.
While those factors helped create a problem, Public Works Director Richard Powell said, the situation was made worse by a miscalculation on his part. Trying to get new garbage carts out to residents, Powell said he pulled a crew from yard debris pickup to distribute the new garbage carts.
“I didn’t think it would pick up that early,” Powell said of the volume of debris.
That happened to be the same weekend that many residents were cleaning up their yards in preparation for Easter. Then, five employees “terminated themselves” by not showing up for work, Powell said.
As a result, the city got behind quickly. Powell said that because the city operates “an aged fleet” of garbage trucks — three new trucks were bought in fiscal 2010 and five more are proposed for fiscal 2011 — Public Works crews also worked through equipment breakdowns.
Powell said when all the trucks are in service and his crews are caught up, the system he’s started will take care of the rest: The solid waste crews notify the yard debris crews of homes that need pickup, and when it’s warranted, yard debris crews call out a “knuckleboom” truck, which is equipped with a crane, for larger piles.
While he didn’t think any debris had been left uncollected for more than four weeks, Powell said his crews have been working an additional day a week to catch up, which he said he thinks will be Friday.
Several residents would disagree with the contention that they’d waited just four weeks. Of the 87 yard debris calls on the customer service log, 28 of the callers said their debris had been sitting for four weeks or more. Nine residents told the city they’d waited even longer, ranging from five weeks to 12 weeks in one case.
Samaria Bailey said yard debris sat untouched for about nine weeks in a pile “almost 5 feet tall” before she called and threatened to invite news organizations to see it.
A crew was out the same day she made that call, she said.
“They threaten to put your house up on the courthouse steps if you don’t pay your garbage bills,” Bailey said, “but they stopped picking up the garbage.”
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.