SHIRLEY -- Northside Carting of North Andover has trash pickup contracts with several New England towns, including Shirley, but lately the service the company provides here has been less than reliable, even spotty and unsatisfactory at times, according to the Board of Health, which called one of the owners on the carpet at its recent meeting.
In a later phone conversation, health board member and town Building Inspector Donald "Butch" Farrar noted recent employee turnover cited by the owner but he also attributed some of the downhill slide in service to a shift in management that began when Northside owner Robert George turned his business over to his two sons due to a medical issue.
Monday night, seated across from the three-member board, a contrite Mark George promised to do better.
Chairman Joseph Howlett explained why the board called George to the table. "We're a little disappointed in your company's performance," he said, citing a barrage of calls about trash not being picked up at homes in several areas of town.
Howlett and Farrar said problems are too frequently repeated to blame bad weather or normal miscues, such as people being late in putting out the bags, purchased for a price under the current pay-as-you-throw system.
"We've had trash pickup in Shirley for 30 or 40 years," Farrar said, and residents know what to do. Now in the fourth year contracting with the town, the company should, too. "Your drivers should know the routes by now," as well as pick-up routines, he said.
"If the schedule is for a certain day, that's when folks expect their trash to be picked up," Howlett said, and if it's not, they want to know why. Excuses like "the truck won't start," are not acceptable, he continued, even on a particularly cold day this winter, when the company apparently cited that reason for a no-show.
Recent complaints focused on the trash haulers skipping some homes on scheduled days, even bypassing entire streets, and Howlett wanted to know what happened. "Why did you miss some streets, or pick up bags at some houses and not others?" he asked.
Howlett said he and other health board members had observed spotty pickups while driving through town and the problem is ongoing. "The calls keep coming in," he said. "What's happening?"
George didn't deny the board's accusations. "I've made personnel changes," he ventured. "Things should go smoothly now."
But Farrar wasn't satisfied. "How do you miss one house on a Road?" he pressed. Say Groton or Brown Road, or leave several bags at one house and pick up trash next door? "You have competition, and I don't want the aggravation," he cautioned.
Not only does the town have an opt-out option to cancel the contract for poor performance, there are private haulers serving customers in town who are always on the lookout for new business, apparently with some success, despite the higher cost.
"All haulers must register here now, and we see more and more residents going that way, even though it costs more," Howlett said.
"So what's changed, Mark?" Jackie Esielionis asked.
"I now have someone on the route permanently. That should solve the problem," he answered.
All well and good, but the board wanted results, and Howlett debunked the notion that issues came up mostly in March, as George suggested was the case. "Every week we get calls," he said.
Farrar later cited cost as the reason the town switched from the previous hauler, Shaw's, to Northside when the previous contract came up for renewal.
The bill went from $500,000 down to $180,000 in the current deal, he said, most of which is paid for through trash bag purchases, tipping fees and all.
Now the ball, or more accurately the bag, is in Northside's court. The board will be looking for the promised improvements, Farrar said.