Republic Services customers in Monroe have reported confusion and concerns as the Phoenix-based solid waste company takes over billing responsibilities from the city. Households have received multiple bills, and pickup was skipped due to a mid-winter snowstorm.

Monroe Baptist Church senior pastor John Stima said he complained to the city directly when thought he was being overcharged.

The new 5-year contract with Republic was approved by the city council in November, and took effect Jan. 1. The city’s solid waste disposal utility was dissolved and any mention of the utility was struck from city code. The city has worked with Republic since 2010, but historically has taken care of the billing. Residential customers are now billed  for garbage, recycling and yard waste on a quarterly basis, and prior to the provision of services, whereas previously the city had billed customers on a monthly basis after all waste was picked up.

“You were paying for what you’ve already consumed,” Stima said.

He said he worries about the policy to bill ahead and if a customer does not end up using those services, how they might be reimbursed.

Janet Prichard, municipal manager for Republic collections in Snohomish County, said billing ahead keep service rates down, and anyone who overpays is credited back the money in their next bill. Republic provides weekly service, with pickups in the northern part of Monroe on Tuesdays and in the southern half on Wednesdays. Businesses are still billed on a monthly basis, and after services are provided, she said.

Stima said he was also concerned about Republic’s ability to respond to customer needs. When he called to talk to Republic’s customer service representatives about billing concerns, he waited so long on the phone he ended up dropping the call, he said. Prior to the transition customers could call the city and get someone on the line within a few minutes, he said.

“We just got slammed, the snow (storm) occurred on the week our bills dropped and everyone wanted to call and pay bills or ask a question, and it caused a lot of pressure on phone lines,” Prichard said.

More representatives were hired to handle expected heavier call volumes during the transition, but the added weather-related calls were more than anticipated, she said. City finance director Dianne Nelson said the city had reviewed records of the average amount of calls they received, and helped Republic plan how many more people to hire on.

“The idea is that, once people get used to the idea, calls will die down and customers will get superior services from what they were getting with the city,” Nelson said.

Up until the new contract began, customers would have to call the city with a complaint or question, then staff would have to call Republic for a response and then turn around and call the customer back, which was an inefficient process, Nelson said. Republic staff is better trained and has more employees that can carry out customer service duties. Additionally, customer service fees under the new contract were reduced by roughly 1 percent because the city was cut out of the process, she said.

While one of his bills was slightly smaller this month, Monroe resident Kenneth Oliver said he was confused as to why he received two separate bills for collection services.

“I am just waiting,” Oliver said. “If I get another city bill, if I get one at the end of this month, then I would probably be sending a complaint. I am waiting until the (due) date, to make sure they are not double dipping — that is what I thought initially.”

Interim City Administrator David Moseley said no customers will be charged again for waste pickup services from the city. The bills from the city received by customers this month are for services from the month of December, and should be the last anyone receives. If another bill is received by the city, customers should call to get that sorted out, he said.