Buncombe Enters into Negotiations with New Waste Hauler - TribPapers
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Buncombe Enters into Negotiations with New Waste Hauler

After Waste Pro informed Buncombe County that they would need to increase rates substantially to keep up with rising costs of service delivery, the county opened an RFP process for a new contractor. FCC was determined to be the most qualified applicant, and the commissioners unanimously approved entering into negotiations with them. Rates for 2025 were not part of the public discussion.

Asheville – Waste Pro’s Regional Vice President of North Carolina Chip Gingles was the first to speak during public comment before the Buncombe County Commissioners. He said he understood that later that evening, the commissioners were going to be asked to approve entering into negotiations to change to another contractor on January 1, 2025.

Gingles reminded the commissioners that they had been hauling trash in the county for over 14 years. Workers have intimate knowledge of their routes. Gingles felt the company had built great relationships with the locals. Workers like to go above and beyond what is expected in customer service. They pick up items outside of the carts, and, at no extra charge, they help more than 1400 elderly or disabled persons by hauling their carts down the driveway and back. WastePro employees, he said, were very valuable assets, and he planned to retain them as long as possible.

Gingles came to Buncombe County in 2015, and he believes he has been a prominent influence for good, serving on Leadership Asheville and working to improve public sanitation. WastePro invested $18.7 million in its 5-acre complex in Arden and purchased new vehicles with automated pick-up arms and a GPS system that locates all subscribers. They also purchased five small trucks so people on dangerous roads don’t have to haul their carts to the closest road accessible by standard trucks.

Everybody speaking on the matter agreed that Buncombe County had a unique topography, and Gingles didn’t think FCC Environmental, WastePro’s would-be successor in Buncombe, had the knowledge and experience to manage it. He complained that the company, whose name he wasn’t going to try to pronounce, was not local. It was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Foment de Construcciones y Contratas, headquartered in Barcelona. The closest area to Buncombe that they service is 300 miles away.

Half a dozen WastePro employees followed Gingles. They spoke about what a great company it was and how they go “above and beyond” for their customers five days a week. They spoke of servicing jeep trails and mountain roads in rain, snow, and ice in a garbage truck. They don’t just dump cans, they get to know their customers and their preferences, and they’re part of the community. One speaker said he averaged 200 backdoor pickups five days a week.

Buncombe County Solid Waste Manager Dane Pedersen said the county was looking for a company to enter a seven-year contract with a one-year extension option for weekly trash and biweekly recycling pickup. They wanted to know what the provider would offer in terms of help for permanently and temporarily disabled and low-income customers, as well as customers frequently visited by bears. They also wanted to see transition plans and make sure the new company would have adequate vehicles and trained staff by January 1. Other areas of concern were how the company was going to manage the area’s narrow, winding, and unpaved roads and what they would do to foster good communications with customers, with the county, and within their company.

The RFP process was launched, with commissioner approval, following a request by WastePro to increase rates over four years from $22.55 to $32.05 a month. The successful applicant would agree to tie customer rates, after the first two years, to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). Only two applicants were deemed qualified, the incumbent and FCC, and a panel with representatives from the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, and Land of Sky Regional Council recommended FCC.

The county had followed up with seven references provided by FCC. Six rated the company as excellent and one rated it as good-to-excellent. Pedersen said FCC was not daunted by the transition process. They had successfully transitioned to markets as large as Asheville and others two or three times as large, and they intended to work with the incumbent hauler to minimize disruptions during the transition.

Pedersen said FCC would have local office staff with a dedicated website. He was convinced that they had a good understanding of the local market and terrain. They had conducted research and taken photos of hard-to-reach areas, and included nimble vehicles in the proposal for their brand new fleet. They already have letters of commitment from manufacturers. Pedersen was confident FCC had a good hiring plan because the company has a low turnover rate overall as well as great benefits accessible almost immediately after hiring.

The commissioners unanimously approved entering into negotiations. Members of the public will have a chance to speak at two more commissioners’ meetings.