Leaf Collection Policy Stirs Debate in New Rochelle

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In the May 9, 2014 issue of Soundview Rising

It was a bit unusual for New Rochelle residents to receive two notices about the public hearing to change the law on leaf collection. The first notice said the words "raked and left at" the curb would be eliminated and replaced with leaves "collected, bagged and left at the curb shall not be mixed with any other yard waste or debris...";

These few words of difference created an outpouring of comments by residents, some of whom supported the change, but others who found this change potentially very expensive and not workable. Residents in the more densely populated part of the southern half of the city do find it difficult to park during the fall season because many residents (and most likely their gardeners) just rake their leaves into the street next to the curb. The law now says that leaves are supposed to be "raked to the curb." Many residents now do place leaves in a barrel or follow the city's collection schedule. However, much of this new law has residents, especially those that have gardeners to rake their leaves, concerned about the added expense of placing leaves in bags or containers for weekly collection. Landscapers are now allowed to use leaf collection sites designated by the city but they must pay the addition cost of a tipping fee.

The second notice of the city went into detail about the present costs for leaf pickup at the curbs which "increased municipal costs of $250,000 per year for specialized sanitation equipment and overtime personnel." Further it stated the leaves could be a safety hazard if they blocked traffic, and "increased flooding from blocked storm drains." The water quality could be negatively impacted since the leaves' phosphorus and nitrogen can leach into the waterways.

Remedies suggested included the present practice of placing leaves into "bags or containers" for weekly collection, removal of leaves to designated leaf collection sites by landscapers, or the most promoted, "mulch mowing on site." Last year the city had a pilot program of mulching which was considered a success. A website for more information was given: www.leleny.org. Pushing for passage of this legislation the second notice said if this "policy change" is approved, a "major public information and education campaign" will follow.

However, efforts to pass this legislation did not stop there. At the earlier April 8, 2014 city council's Committee of the Whole (before the hearing at 7 p.m.), several council members questioned the financial benefits to households for this policy change. Councilman Al Tarantino, for example, said it would cost more to bag the leaves. Mayor Noam Bramson replied the homeowner can mulch in place (and would not need to bag the leaves). Tarantino persisted wanting to know how much money will be involved. Bramson answered the question was "narrow" and he wanted to know why this amount was needed since there is an alterative (of mulching.) Alex Tergis, Public Works Commissioner, suggested there would not be much savings for the taxpayer and asked instead, "What can be do to make the city better?" Bramson said for most homeowners it will be "a reduced cost." Tergis added mulching would produce healthier lawns.

At that evening's Public Hearing for changing the city's leaf collection policy, two informational presentations on the benefits of leaf management and mulching by two people from other communities were allowed unlimited time to speak. After that an assortment of New Rochelle residents (who were given only three minutes to speak) in favor and against the proposed legislation spoke. One resident recounted that his gardener said if he had to bag leaves, he would stop removing them from his property. Another resident felt the financial burden will shift to the homeowner. The sentiment was also expressed that if money would be saved with this proposed leaf collection policy, the onerous garbage fee should be reduced. A resident from Councilman Barry Fertel's district said he opposed this legislation emphasizing there is no "enforcement mechanism for leaves in the street." Former City Manager Peter Korn felt this proposal was a "major shift of costs to homeowners" and could triple the present cost of collecting the leaves.

At the April 17 legislative meeting of the city council the proposed leaf collection policy was discussed before the formal vote took place. The new schedule would include alternating weekly pickups, alternating between the north and south of the city. When Councilman Ivar Hyden asked if it was possible not to charge the landscapers to dump the leaves at the city's collection site, Tergis replied other landscapers from nearby municipalities would be able to dump the leaves without paying. When Councilman Fertel asked if mulching was competitive with blowing leaves into the street, Tergis answered he had gotten "various answers from landscapers." Fertel persisted asking if the cost would go up if leaves were carted to a tipping site. Bramson acknowledged answers will vary, but was adamant that mulching would cost no more, and suggested residents get a new landscaper if the present one does not offer mulching.

Fertel insisted the "data" was anecdotal and he wanted to be clear on these comparisons. After further discussion about how often leaves would be picked up and the problem of wet bags if it rained, a vote was taken. With their affirmative vote, Councilmen Tarantino and Lou Trangucci both tempered their vote with the provision that leaves be picked up once a week. Only Councilman Fertel voted "no" based on the "financial and physical burden" which he said outweighed the benefits. He felt it was a tremendous push back in service.

After the meeting one resident predicted the plan would not work and suggested this vote could be a Waterloo for present council members that voted for it.

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