“Tree City U.S.A” should let its leaves lie, mayoral candidate Steve Judy declared Friday.
Judy called a press conference Friday to express outrage at recent changes to the city’s leaf pickup program.
This year, for the first time, the city is requiring residents to bag or box their leaves and drop them beside garbage cans for city waste haulers to cart away.
Previously, the city let residents rake leaves directly into gutters, but haulers were finding everything from cats to crankshafts when they chopped the leaves into compost.
To save money and time, city officials bagged that program and now plan to dump the boxed-up leaves in the Kootenai County landfill.
Judy, who is challenging Mayor Al Hassell, said he believes that change creates an unnecessary physical and financial burden for the city’s most senior residents.
Two weeks before Election Day, Judy stood in the leaf-caked lawn of resident Ron Sowers and said it’s difficult for elderly residents to find time and energy to rake, let alone bag, leaves.
“The city should be concerned about taking away a traditional service,” he said.
The 67-year-old Sowers said last year he paid neighborhood teenagers $55 to rake his yard. This year, he said, he’ll have to add $5 for bags.
“It’s going to take at least 40 bags,” he said. “And the whole thing’s just going to be a lot more involved.”
Hassell, meanwhile, described the changes as minor. The city would still haul the leaves. Residents now just need to box them up.
“It is a change - there’s no doubt about it, and people don’t like change,” he said. “But it’s just a small step from raking them to the curb to raking them into bags.”
The mayor also commented, “When I had a senior next door, I used to go down and shovel the driveway or send the kids down to do the leaf raking. There are ways of getting it done. If they don’t have the money and physical ability, there are community groups to help.”
Besides, Hassell said, paying a contractor to haul the leaves away costs $18,000 a year. The old program cost $45,000 a year, and that didn’t include the equipment and personnel costs of having city workers do the hauling and composting.
“We’re doing less, but it’s costing much less,” Hassell said.
But Judy, who formerly led a business lobbying group that pushed local governments to cut spending, said leaf pickup is a direct-service program worth spending money on.
Judy couldn’t say how much the city should be willing to spend to return to the old way of doing business.
“Whether it’s $20,000, $30,000, I just don’t know,” he said. “I just know some citizens see the change and think it doesn’t make sense.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo