River Forest officials will continue to use Lakeshore Recycling Services (LRS) as the village’s waste hauler — for now.

Following discussion at the Nov. 22 village board meeting, staff members were directed to renegotiate a new five-year contract with LRS that would include the ability for the village to opt out after 12-months if designated metrics are not met.

The current contract, which expires in April 2022, was signed with Roy Strom Refuse and Removal Services Inc. in 2015, however, LRS acquired Roy Strom last December.

The River Forest Sustainability Commission, an advisory body on which village officials rely regarding environmental issues, recommended that the waste contract negotiations “be guided by the goals of reducing landfill waste, increasing composting and increasing appropriate disposal of specialty/electronics hazardous waste.”

Commission members specifically recommended “including opt-out composting and a drop-off or pickup program for specialty/electronic hazardous waste at an affordable rate.”

The village currently offers opt-in composting, where residents can choose to participate in the program at an additional cost. Under opt-out composting, all residents would be included except those who choose to not to participate.

A memo included the village board’s Nov. 22 meeting packet from Public Works Director Jeff Loster and Management Analyst Sara Phyfer, said village staff members have experienced a “moderate increase” in calls related to customer service issues with waste pickup. They said these issues are typically attributed to the LRS acquisition but admitted that perception “can often be difficult to verify.”

George Strom, a member of the Strom family who continues to be actively involved in serving the village as LRS’ legacy contracts representative, told village officials Nov. 22 that he shares concerns about service but asked that he and LRS be allowed “to get our house in order.”

He has met with village staff members and attended a meeting of the Sustainability Commission in July to provide an overview of services, including the composting program.

Loster and Strom said village and company representatives have discussed creating a document that can be seen by both village and LRF/Strom staff members in real time to track customer service issues, establishing a plan for increased information sharing with village residents and creating a “cheat sheet” to identify general program parameters, which would help reduce confusion for new homeowners and those who are considering a change in service level.

Trustee Katie Brennan noted that Strom “has given a lot of the village,” but requested a regular pickup schedule for electronic and household hazardous waste collection, acknowledging that the service is offered but contending that its existence is not well known.

In response to Trustee Erika Bachner’s concerns regarding residents’ complaints about not getting through to LRS, Strom said the company is tracking complaints better and also communicating better with village staff members.

Trustee Lisa Gillis emphasized the Sustainability Commission’s recommendation, especially the goal of driving down the amount of landfill waste.

When Trustee Bob O’Connell asked if possible rates had been discussed, Loster said, “Not yet” but added that “opportunities exist.”

In response to Brennan’s question about opt-out composting, Loster said, “It’s on our radar.”

To gauge residents’ perception of waste hauling services, the Sustainability Commission conducted a 27-question survey in October via the village’s E-News and social media channels. The majority of the 390 responses indicated general satisfaction with the services provided by LRS.

Specifically, more than 90 percent are neutral or satisfied with the garbage collection, more than 90 percent are neutral or satisfied with the recycling collection, just under 80 percent are neutral or satisfied with the yard waste collection, just under 77 percent are neutral or satisfied with the cost and just under 88 percent are neutral or satisfied with the overall program.

In addition, just under 85 percent of the 144 respondents who use the composting program are neutral or satisfied with that program. Of those who have experienced customer service issues, more than 85 percent are neutral or satisfied with the response, although several noted a perceived drop in service following the acquisition. Just under 90 percent indicated they would be interested in a pickup option of specialty items for an additional fee.

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