Tampa's residential garbage rates have skyrocketed over the past five years, after the Tampa City Council approved millions of dollars in rate increases to keep up with rising costs.
But the I-Team discovered some of the money you're paying is going to employees sitting around on the job.
On a quiet Ybor City street, beside a "no parking" sign, our camera repeatedly caught Tampa Solid Waste Truck 1277 parked with its engine running.
One afternoon we arrived at the parking spot 45 minutes after we were notified by a citizen that the truck was parked there.
The truck with two city employees inside remained there for about 45 minutes, before heading back to the Solid Waste lot.
We requested GPS records from the city and learned that the truck was parked in that same spot 93 minutes that day.
Records show that on another afternoon when we spotted the truck, it remained parked in the same spot for 145 minutes without moving before heading back to the yard.
The two employees in the truck were each paid an average of $20 an hour.
Records show their truck was actually moving less than three hours during each of those two 10-hour shifts.
“I was very disappointed,” said Tampa Solid Waste Director Mark Wilfalk.
He oversees 200 employees who collect garbage and recycling from 79,000 residential and commercial customers.
“The initial premise of garbage collection was built upon hard work, back breaking work. So that old thought was that once you finished your route, you can go home,” Wilfalk said.
But that's not how it works now.
Employees are assigned four,10-hour shifts each week.
New technology has made that work much easier.
Automated trucks with larger capacity mean workers finish routes quicker and make fewer trips to the landfill.
And that can mean more down time for employees.
When asked if other people were being paid without working, Wilfalk said, “I believe there are. And let me just go ahead and say now that we have discovered some of them probably maybe about a year ago or so as we became more efficient.”
But even though every truck is equipped with GPS tracking, managers didn't know the crew we caught was sitting around until we asked for the records.
During our undercover investigation, we followed Tampa Solid Waste trucks for weeks and found them riding all over the city during early afternoon hours, burning up fuel purchased by ratepayers.
Sometimes employees stopped for meals or snacks, other times they hung out with colleagues, but rarely did we see trucks picking up garbage during the afternoon.
That doesn't sit well with customers.
“If you're getting paid to do your job, you should be doing something,” said Norma Guzman, who doesn’t have a job and struggles to pay her bills.
“We all have to work and get paid for it and you need to put your time in, just like everybody else,” said Martha Barreiro.
Since 2012, Tampa's residential pick-up rates have risen 38 percent.
The city’s commercial rates are up 76 percent.
Tampa has by far, the highest garbage collection rates of any city in the Tampa Bay region, at nearly $35 a month. That's more than twice what customers in Bradenton pay, where residential garbage customers pay less than $17 per month.
Some of the price Tampa customers are paying lots to overtime.
The department racked up more than 34,000 hours last year, up nearly 10,000 from 2014.
While some of last year's overtime could be blamed on flooding events, overtime at Solid Waste appears to be a regular perk.
Ten hourly employees have racked up at least $100,000 in overtime pay over a decade.
One driver was paid more than $200,000 during that period.
But you wouldn't guess that, based on the dozens of trucks that head back to the yard hours before the shift ends.
“A driver may have to come back to the office or to our yard to attend a meeting, they may have an evaluation to review, just business,” Wilfalk said.
When asked if he thought the department had too many people, he responded, “I think that needs to be determined. I think we need to go out and do an evaluation. We have to look. We've made some changes in our business practices.”
Wilfalk says the Solid Waste department currently has a vacancy rate of about 13 percent.
He says the department is considering not filling some of those positions if efficiencies have made them unnecessary.
As far as the men in truck 1277, one resigned, the other was terminated.
He said two other solid waste employees have resigned in recent weeks due to issues involving productivity during work hours.
“If they don't have enough work to do, again, that is something that we have already instilled in our employees, to report back to our yard. Speak to your supervisor. See what other work is out there that needs to be done,” Wilfalk said.
If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, contact us at email@example.com