CURBSIDE PICKUP

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GREENSBORO — Trash and recycling collector Waste Industries had a somewhat unusual approach to the business world Thursday for the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to consider.

The company with local offices in High Point sought board approval to offer significantly higher prices than any of its competitors for similar services.

But the board opted for more traditional economics: Commissioners unanimously rejected the company's bid to charge $25.95 a month per household — 20 percent higher than its closest competitor — for weekly trash collection and recycling pickups every other week.

Instead, the board allowed a $3 per month increase from the company's current fee of $18.50 per month to $21.50 — the same cap recently set for Waste Industries' major competitors.

The board acted under the county's franchising ordinance, which gives it rate-setting authority over private waste and recycling services within the county.

Folks who think lower prices usually are the key to landing more business might find it surprising, but Waste Industries said it wanted the larger increase to compete more effectively against major competitor Republic Services and other licensed solid-waste haulers.

"Even though the new rates we are requesting are higher than those of Republic's, it will be the residents' choice when choosing a service provider," Waste Industries official Norma Yanez told the board.

Yanez said in a memo to the board the "new rates would enable us to service more of the county and promote service competition" more effectively.

"The current rates allowed are undesirable and we are currently unable to offer our service outside our existing customer base" in select parts of Guilford, she said.

At their public hearing Thursday in the Old Courthouse, company officials said the increase would affect roughly 1,500 current, residential customers primarily in eastern Guilford County.

It would not have affected customers in Oak Ridge, which has a pre-existing contract with the company, they said.

The request came at a time of great upheaval in the waste and recycling industry. Only two months ago the commissioners gave Republic Services permission to increase its regular, monthly service charges by 30 percent, from $16.50 to $21.50.

Commissioner Jeff Phillips made the motion Thursday to allow Waste Industries to increase its monthly rate to the same maximum the board had granted Republic Services.

Phillips said after the vote he was uncomfortable allowing so great a jump in fees as Waste Industries sought and did not like treating one company so differently from another. He meant "no disrespect" to Waste Industries' business calculations.

"But it's difficult to justify putting one service provider over another within Guilford County," Phillips said.

Republic Services had cited the same, increasing financial pressures on the industry as those mentioned by Yanez in her company's appeal to the board Thursday.

"The costs to process recyclable material have skyrocketed," she said of the changing business realities.

Republic Services' successful request for a rate hike on May 16 came after commissioners expressed concern that they had received complaints from their constituents about periodic spates of poor service in which scheduled collection days were missed.

As part of both rate revisions, the board attached a customer bill of rights that among other things, requires waste contractors to "handle customer complaints in a prompt, courteous and efficient way" that includes rectifying any missed collections within a reasonable amount of time.

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Contact Taft Wireback at 336-373-7100 and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.

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