Leaf vac service suspended

Residents will have to bag or mulch, no
Pam Monson

    The leaves overhead have already started to flutter to the ground, and Wilmington residents who use the city leaf vac service are going to have to find another way to get rid of them. The City Council agreed Tuesday night to suspend the service, effective immediately.
    “It has its ups and downs. People want it, but it’s been a money pit over the years; paying overtime and everything else,” Alderman Steve Evans commented at last week’s Water, Sewer, Streets and Alleys Committee meeting when the members discussed suspending the service this year.
    Ken Ewenson, superintendent of the public works department, said the city crew puts in a lot of man hours for a cost that’s not being directly reimbursed by the residents who use it.
    “As far as I know no money was ever added to a tax base to pay for this, and this thing has gotten to be a monster,” Ewenson said. It’s not just the money it costs for manpower, there’s also maintenance. Over the last eight years the machine has had about $15,000 in new parts, with the staff saving the cost of repairs by doing the work themselves. But, Ewenson said, the machine is designed to self-destruct. All the things that get in leaf piles that don’t belong, such as rocks and branches, do damage when they hit the mulcher. And every season there’s a new repair or two.
    Mayor Roy Strong has fielded some comments from residents who want the city to continue the service. Some are willing to see city stickers come back to pay for it, while residents who don’t use the service complain that their tax dollars are being used for it. Still other residents have suggested that the question be determined by referendum, including a way to pay for it. That, Strong said, would mean that the decision is made by the community and the fallout isn’t on city officials.
    The council bought the leaf vac to give residents an alternative disposal method when it decided to clear the autumn air and end leaf burning. However, as city officials discuss suspending leaf vac service for this year and potentially terminating it in the future, permitting burning again is not being proposed as an option for disposal.
    It’s a Catch 22, Strong said. Residents are already paying for Waste Management to pick up their landscape waste every week from April through November, and they don’t have to try to time their raking to the leaf vac schedule.
    The alternatives to the leaf vac and burning have been available to residents all along — filling dedicated landscape waste bins or brown paper kraft yardwaste bags for disposal on garbage day, or mulching them to supplement lawns and gardens.
    Alderman Kirby Hall suggested that the city provide residents with a few yardwaste bags to ease the transition.
    “Show a pre-paid water bill and get 10 bags, something along those lines, would be a lot cheaper than the vac program,” city administrator Frank Koehler agreed.
    “I’m OK, I don’t have a problem with that, to give it a shot, I’m not good with adding any cost to anything,” Hall said.
    Waste Management sells landscape waste totes for $105, and rents them for $4 per month. The resident would receive a separate bill for either option, since waste disposal is contracted through the city and paid by residents as part of their water and sewer bill.
    Ewenson said any can that is so marked can become a yardwaste container and Waste Management will pick it up.
    The committee sent a recommendation to the City Council to suspend the leaf vac service this year, and the council acted on the recommendation. Depending on the outcome of the suspension, service could be terminated in the future.
    Residents should expect to receive a notice in their next water bill. City officials want to get the word out so that residents aren’t raking their leaves to the side of the road and waiting for the leaf vac that isn’t going to come to pick them up.
    To purchase or rent a wheeled tote contact Waste Management at 800-796-9696.