After seeing their latest bills from Waste Management, 66-year-old Mike Shatz and his friends felt like storming some county offices in protest.
Shatz, who lives on a fixed income in an unincorporated area east of Destin Commons, said he and his fellow senior citizen neighbors are “mad as hell” about the 30 percent price hike reflected on their new bills.
“What you have here is a bunch of seniors who are about to bring all of their trash bags to the County Commission offices and pile them up so (commissioners) can’t get in,” Shatz said Thursday. “I want to embarrass these idiots. There’s no representation for seniors.”
Commissioners voted 3-2 Feb. 28 to approve a new, five-year contract with Waste Management. In the new agreement, the monthly cost of garbage collection is $24.77 per month, or $5.65 more than the previous rate. Shatz and other customers who are billed quarterly are now being charged $74.31, or $16.98 more than previously.
“A 30 percent increase for trash service for seniors in Okaloosa County is unconscionable,” said Shatz, who has been a Waste Management customer for 3 1/2 years. “My Social Security benefits didn’t go up 30 percent, but my Medicare costs have gone up. Seniors only generate probably one-third of the trash that large families do. We can’t handle the (trash bill) increase.”
To make matters worse, commissioners did not insist that Waste Management include a 10 percent senior citizen discount in the new contract, Shatz said.
“The county didn’t negotiate anything on our behalf,” he said, adding that he and several neighbors have submitted online complaints to the county.
Commissioner Graham Fountain, who voted against the new contract, said he fielded about 20 such complaints before lunch Thursday.
“I checked with our procurement office and there was no senior discount negotiated with Waste Management,” Fountain said. “The only (part of the county) that has the 10 percent discount for residents over age 65 is Destin, because it was in their request for proposals.”
He said that in light of the protests, county Purchasing Director Greg Kisela has asked Waste Management to voluntarily consider a senior citizen discount for seniors in unincorporated areas.
“We will wait on that answer,” Fountain said Friday morning.
But as of Friday afternoon, Rene Faucheux, Waste Management’s Panhandle-area spokesman, said, “We have not received that request.”
When asked whether the company would voluntarily provide a discount for seniors, Faucheux replied that it would honor all of the elements that were negotiated in the new contract.
Garbage collection rates in Waste Managment's previous 20-year-plus contract with the county stayed low while other jurisdictions had regular price increases, Fountain said.
“So the garbage cost was going up in any case” in the new contract, he said.
Fountain said after having fought to help keep twice-a-week trash pickups in place, he voted against the new agreement because “the bill went up even more to force two-thirds of our users to buy and use a new, super-large recycle cart when they don’t recycle at all.”
Waste Management has about 32,500 residential customers in the unincorporated parts of the county. It has about 5,300 residential customers in Destin, where it has served as the city’s garbage hauler since 2006, Destin spokesman Doug Rainer said.