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Jun 2, 2010 11:29 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Town to reconsider leaf pick-up

Jun 2, 2010 11:29 AM

Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor, like his predecessor and counterparts in almost every East End municipality, would like to halt the practice of collecting the leaves town residents deposit in loose piles on roadsides each autumn.

But ending the immensely popular program is not an easy proposition thanks to the politics involved. Residents have consistently said the leaf program is one of the few tangible benefits almost everyone gets from their tax dollars. Still, it’s time-consuming, a drain on one of the town’s most thinly stretched departments, and is widely abused by unscrupulous landscaping firms, officials say. And finding an alternative solution to how residents will dispose of the deciduous waste from their trees is turning out to be surprisingly complex.

“I can tell you this, I have not come to a conclusion about what I think we should do,” Mr. Gregor, in his first year as highway superintendent, said this week. “We’ve been talking to a lot of people about it. I like the bag idea, but there’s some variables in that, with the Department of Waste Management and the way we compost. We’re considering privatizing it. And there’s some other possibilities.”

Mr. Gregor said he hopes to make a presentation to the Town Board next month about the various options for addressing the task of picking up leaves in the fall. Foremost among the ideas he’s considering, Mr. Gregor said, is requiring residents who want their leaves picked up by town crews to put the leaves in biodegradable paper sacks, which would be supplied by the town. That’s how nearby Southold Town handles its leaf collection program.

Mr. Gregor estimated that bagging leaves could cut by nearly half the amount of time the Highway Department must dedicate nearly all of its manpower to leaf collection, from 16 weeks to eight or 10 weeks.

When the highway workers are assigned to leaf collection, the department has precious few resources to complete paving and clearing of drainage areas before the winter freeze sets in, Mr. Gregor said. And early season snowstorms, like the December 20 blizzard last year, can halt the pickup and leave mounds of leaves buried under snow, narrowing roadways.

Because Southampton Town does not hire dozens of part-time workers to help with its annual leaf pickup, as East Hampton Town does, Mr. Gregor acknowledges that he might not be able to show a massive cost saving from changing the program—but he noted that the additional work his crews could be doing with their time would carry other benefits.

“I’m still going to have 40 employees—I can’t say I’m going to save a ton of money,” Mr. Gregor said. “I’m just saying we’d speed up the operation and be able to focus more on the maintenance issues that have been going by the wayside over the years, mostly because of manpower issues. Even if I could save a week, that would allow us to clean our drainage and recharge basins and do pothole repair. Drain cleaning is very important going into winter.”

Even a bagged leaf program poses problems. The bags might have to be passed through a shredding machine before they could be composted, and the cost of buying such a machine could prove prohibitive, Mr. Gregor said. Currently, leaves picked up by the town in late November and December are deposited at town landfills for composting—the piles of loose leaves needing only to be turned occasionally to aid the natural decomposition process.

The added difficulty of bagging leaves might also place a financial strain on seniors who couldn’t do the labor themselves and would be forced to hire someone to do it.

“While the idea of a bag program has merit, some of our friends in other jurisdictions have tried it and found it wasn’t as successful as they hoped,” Town Councilman Jim Malone said this week. “You have certain demographics or others who are not as able to do the labor as you and I.”

Mr. Gregor held three public forums in the fall dedicated to the future of the leaf program. One of the forums in Hampton Bays drew more than 100 residents. The highway superintendent said that people were open to the leaf bagging idea if the town supplied them with the bags. Most municipalities that have bagging programs charge a small amount for the bags.

The other option Mr. Gregor and Town Board members have been considering is the idea of contracting with private landscaping firms to aid or even take over the program.

“If we’re going to continue to pick up leaves, and that’s what our residents want, I think maybe we can deal with it like we do with snowstorms and bring in independent contractors to supplement the Highway Department,” Councilman Chris Nuzzi suggested. “If we can contract out and get it done in a month in the fall and spring, it might work better.”

Mr. Gregor said he will present the board with all the various permutations of possible changes to the program and the logistics and costs involved in implementing each, both from the town’s point of view and from residents.

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Good idea, Chris! Let's contract it out so we can lay plums on some more of our Republican pals.
By fidelis (199), westhampton beach on Jun 3, 10 10:52 PM
auction off the vacuum trailers and privatize it. A private company could do the entire town in 1/4 of the time it takes highway to do it.
By politcal pawn (121), Flanders on Jun 3, 10 11:48 PM
Go with compostable paper bags. Just leaves, nothing else.
By Terry (380), Southampton on Jun 4, 10 10:40 AM
Oh yeah just leaves and nothing else! Ha.
By Puros (30), Hampton Bays on Jun 5, 10 12:43 AM
I'll admit I did not read any more of the article because the main truth was right at the beginning...we pay more than enough taxes ---it is the least thing as highway superintendent -you can do -and should do.
Stop the crying like a baby -AND GET TO WORK!!!!
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Jun 4, 10 12:58 PM
1 member liked this comment
I understand from the aricle that leaves are picked up in Nov. and Dec.. When are the spring pick ups? It actualy takes 16 weeks of the year and drains the workforce?
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Jun 4, 10 5:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
The town should provide an incentive to residents to bag and drop the leaves off at their local recycling facilities. I know I would bring them there if it means I could save some money on my tax bill.
By Puros (30), Hampton Bays on Jun 5, 10 12:54 AM
1 member liked this comment
There is a large amount of money from our taxes allocated to the leaf-pickup program. Does anybody here actually think that if they cancel this program we'll get to stop paying into that fund, thus reducing our taxes. NO! They will just keep taxing us for it, and move it to other programs that are not in need of more funds. They will NEVER give us this money back, so saving taxpayers money should not even be brought up in this discussion.
By AlwaysLocal (292), southampton on Jun 5, 10 5:00 AM
Bagging the leaves, however, would be a back-door method to raise the taxpayers burden by charging an ungodly fee for these bags. I know the article refers to the bags as being "supplied by the town," but the green bags that the town "supplies us with" for garbage aren't cheap by anybody's standards, just another source of revenue for the town.
By AlwaysLocal (292), southampton on Jun 5, 10 5:04 AM
1 member liked this comment
If the Town supplied the bags I would do it. As for the elderly and handicapped, they should develop and exemption based on need and the Dept would do what they have always done. The Hwy Dpet budget is strained and are roads are terrible. Any savings would be put back into fixing the roads and clearing the drains which benefits everyone.
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Jun 5, 10 8:22 AM
Lets get bill masterson back
By john o (34), southampton on Jun 8, 10 9:32 AM
Are you trying to be funny John O....because the way I see it ...he helped to make areas in Southampton town like SLUMS by not enforcing his work crew to do Work! If you really believe bill masterson should be brought back- you need to get the heck outa' here...you provide no solution...you are a problem!
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Jun 11, 10 5:48 AM