Officials trade their desk jobs for day on back of garbage trucks

Public works department pitch in to erase three-week yard trash backlog

By Don Coble
Posted 4/21/21

CLAY COUNTY – Howard Wanamaker was back at his desk this week, carefully busily working on the county’s business. His hands were sore and blistered. His face was red and weathered by sun. His …

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Officials trade their desk jobs for day on back of garbage trucks

Public works department pitch in to erase three-week yard trash backlog

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – Howard Wanamaker was back at his desk this week, carefully busily working on the county’s business. His hands were sore and blistered. His face was red and weathered by sun. His back was softened by a dull pain.

As the Clay County Manager, Wanamaker has the daunting responsibility of solving all of the county’s problems. That includes working on budgets, implementing programs and providing an important connection between residents’ needs and solutions from their government.

And for a day last week, it meant picking up trash.

Staffing problems created by COVID-19 and a lack of people who are willing to work couldn’t have hit Waste Management at a worse time. As local residents completed spring cleaning projects, yard debris continued to be piled on curbs.

To catch up, the county rented four garbage trucks from Green Cove Springs and provided workers from the public works department a reflective vest and work gloves to clean up the mess. Wanamaker, county environmental services director Charlie Latham and WM Florida Area Vice President David Myhan also pitched in.

“Being able to help out the crews was a rewarding experience and one that I will never forget,” Wanamaker said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who work tirelessly to keep our streets and neighborhoods free from waste, day in and day out. It was very labor intensive, hot, and hard on your back. The only saving graces were the few long stretches between stops.”

Like many other local businesses, Waste Management has struggled to find workers. Stimulus payments and unemployment benefits often make it more lucrative to stay at home than punch a time clock. In short, going to work, especially in the service industry, generally requires taking a pay cut compared to “free” money being given away by state and federal officials.

Waste Management officials are looking into several ways, including offering sign-on and stay-on bonuses and increasing starting pay for drivers, and raising starting salaries for back of truck helpers, to solve the problem.

“We understand there’s a problem, and there are reasons for that problem,” said regional manager Greg Huntington. “It’s important for the commission to hear the reasons for the situation, as well as your residents. It’s not like we’re trying to hide. It’s not like we’re trying to fail.

“COVID-19 – there’s a continued impact on our operations, both in the state of Florida and nationwide. The impact of the stimulus money and the change in unemployment benefits, which have caused a reduction in the labor pool, as well as our solutions.”

Waste Management has been able to hire enough workers to collect residential trash and recyclables, but the company wasn’t able to pick up yard trash for nearly three weeks.

To help catch up, the county has put some of its workers on the back of trucks on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays to catch up. They eventually managed to make up the three-week backlog and plan to be caught up by Friday, said Milton Towns, Deputy Director of Clay County Environmental Service.

“Thus far, we’re running near to schedule,” he said. “We put county staff on the rear steps to collect yard waste. This week has been encouraging. We always have the highest volume [of trash] this time of year because of yard waste.”

On a normal Wednesday, before staffing issues began, routes would average approximately 100 tons of yard waste a day. On Wednesday, April 14, with the help of other companies and municipalities – including Wanamaker, the county was able to collect 192 tons of yard waste.

Waste Management will be responsible for paying the county for collections and Green Cove Springs for use of its city trucks, Towns said.

Waste Management also brought in 25 workers from outside the area, and the company now is working with several temporary employment services to fill job vacancies. Huntington said temporary workers often are promoted to fulltime positions “once they prove themselves.”

To help, the county waived yard trash fees at the Rosemary Hill Solid Waste Management Facility in Green Cove Springs until April 28. Residents can drop of yard debris from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Sunday.

To be eligible, residents must show proof of county residency with a driver’s license, lease or utility bill, and commercial yard service companies don’t qualify for free dumping, the county said.

Otherwise, residents are asked to stack up yard waste at the curb for pickup.

To report missed garbage and/or recycling, please submit a missed service request using Clay County’s Customer Portal, please visit https://myservices.claycountygov.com/en. And for more information about the Rosemary Hill, please visit https://www.claycountygov.com/commu.../garbage-and-recycling.

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