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Local state of emergency declared in Polk County as missed trash piles up

The missed collection of trash endangers "the public health, safety and welfare of Polk residents," the county said in a statement.

BARTOW, Fla. — Polk County leaders declared a local state of emergency amid ongoing issues related to the infrequent pickup of residential trash.

In a news release, the county said the missed collections "endanger the public health, safety and welfare of Polk residents." 

FCC Environmental Services was given an ultimatum earlier in January to clean up its garbage collection services or risk losing its contract. The county said it received 1,710 complaints in December, which fell to 644 in January — still a high number that FCC manager Jim Suter admitted "is absolutely not the number we're looking for."

However, Chair of the Polk County Commissioners Martha Santiago said in recent weeks, the Commissioners learned the true level of complaints in January appears to be higher than the reported 644. 

"In retrospect, they were just counting calls. And a call could be representative of 600 households, but they just counted it as one. So to us, it showed they had improved, but a little after that we learned there was really no improvement. We're back to about 1,700 to 2,000 phone calls and emails," said Santiago. 

That knowledge is what seems to have led to a sort of breaking point, with the Polk County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voting to implement a local state of emergency on Tuesday.

"It's becoming a public health issue when we see garbage cans overflowing in communities," said Santiago.

Commissioner Santiago said she hopes Polk County can use these emergency powers to help FCC sort out its issues. 

"We have a contract with [FCC Environmental Services] and we really want to see it work. We're not enemies or anything like that, we just really want them to do their job and serve our communities and citizens," said Santiago. 

The County Attorney is now drafting the ordinance which declares the local state of emergency. Once that's signed, the County Manager will be able to take action.

"At the end of the day, our trash needs to be picked up. Our citizens are just fuming with all of this going on and I don't blame them," said Santiago. 

Santiago says it's still unclear what tangible action the County Manager will take with the emergency order powers, but all options are on the table.

"Maybe it's a smaller company that's willing to come in and help us out? So be it!" said Santiago. "We're up for anything and everything, let's just see what comes out of this."

It allows County Manager Bill Beasley to do the following, according to the news release:

  • Utilize all available resources of the county government as reasonably necessary to cope with the emergency;
  • Make provisions for the availability and use of temporary emergency housing and the emergency warehousing of materials;
  • Acquire merchandise, equipment, vehicles, or property needed to alleviate the emergency.

The declaration also allows the following that would otherwise be governed by law:

  • Performance of public work and taking whatever prudent action is necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the community;
  • Entering into contracts;
  • Incurring obligations;
  • Employment of temporary or permanent workers;
  • Rental equipment;
  • Acquisition and distribution, with or without compensation, of supplies, materials and facilities;
  • Appropriation and expenditure of public funds.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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