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A man walks by trash bins next to the curb (via Trinity Nguyen on Unsplash)

(Updated at 1:25 p.m.) The service and staffing challenges plaguing trash collectors throughout Fairfax County have prompted one company to call it quits, leaving thousands of residents in limbo with little notice.

Haulin’ Trash LLC has permanently shuttered, informing customers by email Wednesday (Nov. 30) that it will cease operations effective yesterday.

“We have faced many challenges over the past several weeks that we simply cannot overcome. This decision has not only affected our customers but it has affected dozens of employees and their families,” owner Bobby Frazier said in the message, apologizing for the resulting inconvenience.

Frazier said that the “keys to the business” will transferred to a court-appointed trustee “over the next couple of weeks,” who will be in charge of giving out credits or refunds.

Started in 2017, the Leesburg-based company served around 3,000 customers in the county, including homeowners’ associations and 1,800 single-household customers, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) says.

The county has over a dozen private, licensed haulers that serve about 90% of residents and businesses. The rest get waste collection services from the county government.

DPWES says its Solid Waste Management Program contacted Haulin’ Trash on Tuesday (Nov. 29) after receiving “a surge in resident complaints about missed collections.” The company told staff that it was “experiencing operational and financial difficulties,” but said it was looking at options to address the reported concerns, according to the county.

A day later, though, Haulin’ Trash notified the county that it had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and would close on Dec. 1. An email sent to customers on Nov. 30 said plans to “catch up” on missed collections proved impossible because it had only four trucks — half its fleet – available.

Shared with FFXnow today, the email has a timestamp of 4:29 p.m. The announcement that Haulin’ was permanently closing went out at 9:39 p.m. that same day. The company didn’t return a request for comment.

While sudden, the closure doesn’t appear to be a total surprise to Haulin’ customers. One told FFXnow that the company’s service “had degraded to almost nothing this month,” while an Oakton resident said it missed three consecutive pickups in their neighborhood in November.

“The delayed/missed pickups have caused trash/recycle bin(s) and yard waste bag(s) sit on the curbside/street for weeks,” the resident wrote in an anonymous tip. “As a result, the neighbor looks disorganized with unpleasant smell, trashes littering on street, in storm drainage, on lawn(s).” Read More

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An American Disposal truck in Fairfax County (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County will ask the Virginia General Assembly for more authority to fix its trash troubles, as complaints about American Disposal Services continue.

At Tuesday’s (Oct. 18) legislative committee meeting, the Board of Supervisors once again dove into the persisting problems with trash pickups by the private, contracted collectors that serve about 90% of residents and almost all businesses in the county.

Throughout this year, the county has received many complaints about the contractors’ performance, especially American Disposal, which cut back on pickups this spring.

In late September, the county signed a consent agreement with the company. According to Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, the agreement obligates American Disposal to hire more drivers and customer service personnel, increase salaries, and credit customers for missed pick-ups, starting Jan. 1. It also imposes a $5,000 fine on the company.

Per Palchik’s newsletter, the contractor has until Dec. 31 to “make the necessary schedule modifications” and maintain adequate staff and equipment to resolve its service issues. Customers must be notified of any changes to their collections by that date as well.

FFXnow was unable to reach American Disposal for comment.

Meanwhile, the county is considering lobbying state lawmakers to ease restrictions on its ability to impose its own trash pick-up model.

“This surge in complaints, which account for approximately 86 percent of all waste collection complaints received by the County, has led to consideration of alternative solid waste management system models, and whether such alternatives could improve the quality and/or reliability of service delivery,” a staff report says.

One alternative would be to implement a franchising model, which Virginia law currently allows localities to do.

“Under a franchising model, the County would likely be divided into several different zones, and each zone would be served by a single collection company. Customers would pay for service based on County-negotiated rates,” the staff report notes.

However, the state code complicates the county’s ability to enact this model. Notably, if franchising ends up prohibiting a currently contracted company from continuing to service the county, the county either has to essentially wait five years to start franchising or pay the affected company a year’s worth of gross receipts.

“The code makes [franchising], quite frankly, impossible. It might as well be banned outright,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said Tuesday. “The five-year delayed implementation date, obviously, prevents anyone from doing it. That’s why no one in the Commonwealth has done it, to my knowledge.”

The code does have some exceptions, mainly for if a trash pick-up company is so inadequate at its job that it’s “threatening public health and safety” and is breaching the contract.

McKay asked the county legal team what would constitute a breach of contract, noting that an answer would probably have to come at a later date.

“Where do we think the line is where [it’s] threatening public health and safety?” McKay said. “[Are] we potentially getting near reaching that? If we have multiple consent agreements and trash laying out and it’s a public…health issue and they are obviously not fulfilling the agreement. It’s probably a pretty high bar, but we should know that if these problems persist.”

Per staff recommendation, the committee voted in support of asking the General Assembly to provide “flexibility” for a franchise model. This could mean wiping out or altering these “onerous requirements” to make it easier for the county to franchise trash service. Read More

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Herndon Town Manager Bill Ashton presents the town’s fiscal year 2022 annual report (via Town of Herndon)

The Town of Herndon hasn’t missed a single trash day during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite grappling with the same labor and supply issues as other jurisdictions.

Town Manager Bill Ashton admitted to the town council on Sept. 27 that he typically wouldn’t highlight uninterrupted trash service “as a badge of honor” in the town’s annual report for fiscal year 2022, which ran from July 1, 2021 to June 30 of this year.

However, with both larger localities and private collectors struggling with pickups over the past couple of years, Herndon sees its seamless trash and recycling service to 5,200 households and over 150 public sites as a genuine accomplishment.

“Our ability to get [commercially licensed drivers] behind the wheels of our trash trucks was a very difficult task this year,” Ashton said. “I will applaud [Director of Public Works] Scott Robinson and [Deputy Director] Tammy Chastain and the team for really taking a look at our organization and moving resources where they needed to be…to make sure this happened, and we didn’t miss a single day of trash throughout the pandemic and even through to today.”

From similarly uninterrupted water and sewer services to the police department closing 207 of 263 new criminal investigations, everything that the town did over the past year was accomplished with staffing levels around 85%, according to Ashton.

That figure doesn’t account for employees taking leave, including the “four to five people we had out on Covid almost every week,” he told the council.

Reflecting national labor challenges, Herndon saw record employee turnover due to both resignations and retirements in FY 2022, according to the annual report.

“Eleven employees retired in FY 2022, a higher pace than recent years and — due largely to pandemic-caused pressures — consistent with national measures,” the report says. “Total turnover of regular status employees increased by 53 percent in FY 2022.”

The town did manage to hire 141 employees, a 59% increase from the previous fiscal year and a number consistent with pre-pandemic levels. But it now takes three to six months to hire for a new position that once would’ve taken half that time, even with the addition of a human resources staffer dedicated to recruiting, Ashton said.

In some cases, staff compensated for the shortage of personnel by adapting services and programming, as was the case with the annual Herndon Festival’s downsizing into a carnival. A shortage of volunteer support and difficulties booking entertainers also contributed to the decision to modify the festival.

“Attendance was not as robust as in previous years, when a full festival was held, but it affirmed the community was willing to support a modified and, in this case, a lesser event,” Ashton said.

Council members praised staff for their work and willingness to reevaluate and improve how the town operates. The parks and recreation department, for instance, changed its quarterly events guide to one produced in-house every two months, allowing staff more flexibility while giving the community more up-to-date information.

“Staff had a difficult time providing this community with the quality levels of services they expect, but through resilience, agility, and creativity, we met our missions,” Ashton said.

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Emptied trash and recycling bins by the street (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Trash troubles keep piling up with the county out of trash cans for at least another two months.

Fairfax County has “exhausted” its inventory of trash cans and won’t be able to provide new ones to residents until later this fall,  Dept. of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) spokesperson Sharon North told FFXnow.

“A new order already has been placed and should be in-house by early November,” she said via email.

In the meantime, North suggested that residents who are waiting on a new trash can to put their trash in a box or another container and leave it curbside on their pick-up day.

“It will be picked up, even if it’s in a box,” she said.

The missing trash can issue was brought to FFXnow’s attention by a Dranesville District resident.

About 90% of county residents and businesses have their trash picked up by private haulers, but about 10% have theirs picked up by the county. That’s about 43,000 residential units.

It’s those 43,000 that are potentially impacted by the shortage, though it only applies to those who are requesting a new trash can due to theirs being broken, moving into a new house, or are otherwise in need.

The problem started earlier this summer, North shared, when the county gained about 1,100 new customers. This created a bit of a “domino effect.” While the county’s Solid Waste Management Program put in order for more trash cans in May, those were all gone by July.

Rising costs and shortages of the worldwide supply of resin also have contributed to the lack of trash cans available to county residents, North said. The hope remains that a fresh stock of gleaming new trash cans will be available come November for new residents and those with broken ones alike.

This isn’t the county’s only recent trash trouble.

Last month, county officials addressed the “multiple complaints” they’ve been getting from residents about the performance of some contracted trash collectors in the county. Reports were coming from across the county about haulers missing pick-ups and not communicating delays all the while potentially increasing rates.

Complaints were coming in most often about American Disposal, a pattern that dated back to 2019. The company blamed a driver shortage, but Board Chair Jeff McKay told FFXnow in August that alone shouldn’t result in missed pick-ups and increasing rates.

“[A driver shortage] should not result in some of the significant problems our residents face as our haulers do not lack for resources to remedy staffing and related issues,” he said.

A number of solutions were proposed including “franchising” the county’s trash collecting and issuing fines to haulers not fulfilling their trash pick-up duties.

At a Tuesday meeting, the board approved a board matter by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw to further examine problems with American Disposal  Services and possible solutions.

The matter was jointly pushed forward by McKay and supervisors Kathy Smith and Dan Storck. It directs county staff to update the board on efforts to address complaints about missed and late pick-ups. The matter also includes language the could allow the county to move to a different system of solid waste collection, if changes are approved by the General Assembly. 

County staff from the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services have done amazing work to resolve residents’ individual issues with ADS — but a better solution would be for ADS to meet the requirements of the County ordinance and keep its commitment to its customers,” Walkinshaw wrote in a statement. 

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

Labor Day weekend is upon us, heralding the imminent return of pumpkin spice lattes and everything fall.

Fairfax County government offices will be closed in honor of the holiday, but some facilities will remain open. 

Government

Government offices for Fairfax County, Fairfax City, and the towns of Herndon and Vienna will be closed on Monday, although some facilities may remain open.

Fairfax County Public Schools will also observe the holiday. All libraries will also be closed.

Trash and recycling 

Fairfax County advises residents to contact their trash and recycling collector directly for any service schedule changes due to the holiday.

Transportation 

Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess will operate on a Sunday schedule. Because of the holiday, customers will benefit from off-peak fares, and parking will be free all day. 

There’s also another reason to celebrate: Labor Day is the last day of closures at five Orange Line stations.

Fairfax Connector will operate on a Sunday schedule.

Courts

The county’s circuit and general district courts will be closed due to the holiday. Juvenile and domestic relations courts will also be closed.

Recreation

All recreational centers will be open for regular hours with the exception of the George Washington Rec Center, which is closed for the day.

All historic sites will be closed, alongside county-run nature centers. Frying Pan Farm Park is open, but its visitors center is closed. Green Spring Gardens will be closed to the public.

Photo via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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Emptied trash and recycling bins by the street (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Trash collection has become a hot mess in Fairfax County of late.

After FFXnow reported earlier this week on local officials’ efforts to address an avalanche of complaints, many community members added their tales of woe to the ongoing saga of late or entirely neglected pickups, ineffectual communication, and reductions in service without accompanying decreases in fees.

One commenter hasn’t gotten pickups in four weeks, while another said that American Disposal Services — the private hauler that has emerged as the primary troublemaker — misses over half their scheduled collection days. Accumulating garbage and recycling has spawned a rat infestation at the Hollybrooke Condominiums in Seven Corners, according to a tipster.

In addition, multiple community members confirmed that they’d been notified of an impending 10% rate increase by American Disposal, which reduced pickups from twice to once a week this spring, citing staffing challenges.

While it’s difficult to gauge just how widespread the issue is, local government officials told FFXnow that comments they’ve gotten or seen on social media — and their own experiences — suggest residents across the county have been affected.

Have you seen a noticeable deterioration in your trash service lately? Feel free to vent or perhaps brag (within the bounds of our comments policy) about your waste collection experiences below.

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An American Disposal truck in Fairfax County (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County is still having trash troubles.

Earlier this month in his weekly newsletter, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay wrote that he was “aware of multiple complaints” about the performance of some contracted trash collectors in the county.

While neighboring localities faced similar challenges earlier this summer, McKay said that was little excuse for haulers not providing customers proper service.

“While these companies face the same staffing and supply chain issues that have impacted everyone, they still owe it to their customers to be fully transparent about this process,” McKay wrote.

About 90% of all county residents and businesses have their trash, recycling, and yard waste picked up by private haulers paid for by individual residents, homeowners’ associations, or similar organizations. That’s about 381,000 residential units.

The remaining 10%, mainly concentrated in the east, have their trash picked up by Fairfax County.

McKay wrote in the newsletter that the process to petition for a neighborhood to have its waste picked up by the county is currently “suspended.”

McKay told FFXnow that residents have reported contracted waste haulers missing pick-ups and failing to communicate about what’s going on.

It’s unclear exactly how many of the nearly 400,000 residences serviced by private haulers are having trash troubles, but McKay’s office believes it’s a “significant” number “based on the feedback to our offices and what we see on social media.”

The issue also has been going on for months. In February, the Board of Supervisors Environmental Committee got a memo outlining some of the issues, resident complaints, and potential solutions.

According to the memo, starting in November of last year, residents have complained significantly more about private contractor American Disposal than any other. The company faced similar problems and resident complaints in 2019 as well.

In April, American Disposal reduced pickups from twice a week to once due to ongoing labor shortages. Additionally, there are reports on NextDoor and Reddit that the company is raising its rates by 10%, angering customers even further.

FFXnow reached out to American Disposal for comment but has yet to hear back as of publication.

The board chair’s office said it has heard about rate increases anecdotally but hasn’t gotten any official notice from American Disposal.

“We can certainly understand and relate to the frustration and continue to actively look into the operations of our private haulers,” McKay’s office said. Read More

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Morning Notes

Sunlight shines through trees in Reston (photo by Terry Baranski)

D.C. Area Sees Rise in Teacher Resignations –“Resignations spiked enormously at the end of the 2021-2022 academic year in D.C. Public Schools and in several Northern Virginia districts, including Fairfax County…Educators say the reasons for resigning vary. But some cite the difficulty teachers faced readjusting students, many of whom had grown accustomed to pandemic-era remote education, to in-classroom learning this past year.” [The Washington Post]

Police Chief Addresses Gun-Pointing Incident — The Fairfax County Police Department released body camera footage on Friday (July 15) of officers pointing their guns at a person who was filming them outside a West Falls Church IHOP. Chief Kevin Davis said he understands “the anxiety that folks in the community have after seeing this video go viral” but defended the officers’ actions. [WTOP]

Fairfax County Among Wealthiest Counties in U.S. — “A five-year survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau looked at median household income to determine the wealthiest counties in the country…With a median household income of $127,866, Fairfax County arrives on the list at number five.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Staffing Challenges Affect County Trash Pickups — “Fairfax County residents have been experiencing trash pickup delays for several months, but Dave Lyons, director of the Fairfax Workers Coalition, said he wants them to know that’s not only because of the pandemic or the strained labor market.” [Fairfax County Times]

Vienna Resident Says No to Leaf Blowers — “Vienna could be more pleasant, family friendly and healthier if the town banned the use of cosmetic lawn chemicals and noisy gas-powered leaf blowers, resident Avril Garland told the Town Council July 11. Both of those policies already have been implemented in Montgomery County, Md., said Garland” [Sun Gazette]

Vienna Considers Removing Church Spire — “Church steeples add interest and variety to Vienna’s skyline, but the one at the former Faith Baptist Church likely will be coming down. The Vienna Town Council at its Aug. 29 meeting will consider a proposal to remove the spire at the former church.” [Sun Gazette]

Reston Woman Made Disguises for CIA — “A 27-year veteran of the U.S. intelligence community, [Jonna] Mendez unmasks the secrets of how she helped transform the CIA in her new memoir, titled ‘In True Face,’ available early next year. Mendez, now 77, developed shockingly realistic methods for instantly changing appearances, carrying concealed cameras, and protecting operatives in the field.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

School Board Selects New Chair — “The Fairfax County School Board has elected Rachna Sizemore Heizer (Member-at-Large) as chair and Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Franconia District Representative) as vice chair for a one-year term. The chair and vice chair assumed office at the July 14 School Board meeting” [FCPS]

Huntington Affordable Housing Apartments Now Leasing — “The Arden — a 126-unit affordable housing community developed, owned, and operated by Wesley Housing — is nearing completion and leasing activities have just begun! Apartment homes at The Arden will be available for applicants earning between 40 and 80 percent of the Area Median Income.” [Housing and Community Development]

See Fairfax County Police Officers Rescue Man From Smoke — “Our officers do amazing work every day. Watch as two officers from our Franconia District Station save a man trapped in a smoked-filled apartment.” [FCPD/Twitter]

It’s Monday — Rain in the evening. High of 85 and low of 74. Sunrise at 5:59 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) Juneteenth will be celebrated across Fairfax County and the nation Sunday and Monday this year.

Last year, President Joe Biden signed into law Juneteenth, June 19, as a federal holiday. This year, the holiday will be observed on Monday (June 20).

The date has been commemorated to mark the end of slavery, recognizing that on June 19, 1865, news that the Civil War was over and the enslaved were now free reached Galveston, Texas.

It has been celebrated since but only became a federal holiday last year. See a listing below of what will be open and closed in Fairfax County on Sunday and Monday.

Government

Fairfax County government offices will be closed Monday (June 20) in recognition of the Juneteenth holiday, but some facilities are open and schedules vary. Fairfax County Public Schools will also observe the holiday Monday for all personnel.

The library system’s branches will be closed on Sunday and Monday. Animal Control will still have its regular Sunday hours, and is closed, as it normally is, on Mondays.

The Circuit and District courts will be closed Monday.

The Town of Herndon offices will be closed Monday.

Parks Authority

All Parks Authority rec centers, nature centers, historic sites, visitor centers and the Green Spring Gardens Horticultural Center will be open Sunday. The Green Spring Gardens Historic House will be closed. But on Monday, the historic sites — Colvin Run Mill and Sully Historic Site — will be closed.

All Neighborhood and Community Service facilities will be closed Saturday (June 18) through Monday. Reston Community Center Hunter Woods and Lake Anne will be open Monday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Herndon Community Center will be closed Monday. But Herndon Centennial Golf Course will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., weather permitting.

Transportation

Fairfax Connector will operate on a holiday weekday service schedule on Monday. Its stores and customer service center will be closed. Human Services Transportation (FASTRAN) will not operate on Monday.

On Monday, Metro will operate buses on a Saturday supplemental schedule, but trains will run from 5 a.m. to midnight, following a “normal” schedule aside from the ongoing closure of certain Orange Line stations due to platform work, according to a news release.

Trash

The county advises residents to contact their trash and recycling collector directly for service schedule changes due to the holiday.

The I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will be open for their normal hours.

Town of Herndon recycling will be collected Tuesday (June 21) since it is normally collected Monday.

Photo via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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A refuse truck picks up trash (via Fairfax County)

More trash service is being disrupted by staffing issues in the industry.

Starting April 18, American Disposal Services will reduce pickups from twice a week to once a week across Fairfax County amid ongoing labor issues that have hit the industry during the pandemic, a customer representative for the private hauler confirmed.

The company merged with Waste Connections in 2018, a Houston-headquartered publicly traded company that had revenue in 2021 of nearly $6.2 billion, an increase of around 13% from its total of nearly $5.5 billion in 2020. Revenue in 2019 was $5.4 billion.

Competition for workers with other delivery services, such as Amazon, have meant disruptions in service across the country.

American Disposal Services says on its website that it currently has openings for drivers, mechanics, customer service, and more.

A search with Waste Connections’ career section showed 21 openings in Virginia and 865 vacancies across the U.S. and Canada.

While American Disposal Services did not provide data on how many customers it has in Fairfax County, about 90% of residents and business get trash and recycling collection services through a private company, according to the county.

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