Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Carlson Bagged leaf program is environmentally responsible

September 17, 2018

I would like to correct the record on Thursday’s op-ed, “Mayor needs to bag plan for leaf pickup.”

The author argues that Mayor David Martin should easily find the $1.4 million unspecified cut made by the Board of Representatives from a $570 million budget without impacting the author or other residents.

Except that it is not true that the mayor could cut from the entire $570 million budget. The mayor could not cut the Board of Education budget, could not cut debt service, could not cut payments for past unfunded pension obligations, and could not cut funding for outside agencies. Of what is left, due to state and local labor laws, the mayor is not permitted to cut most employee benefits and salaries. And Stamford already has fewer city employees per capita than neighboring and large cities in Connecticut.

Furthermore, the Board of Finance and Board of Representatives had already cut more than $2.1 million from this same small slice of the remaining budget. They were unable to agree on any more specific cuts, leaving the nearly impossible task of finding additional cuts to the mayor. While a $1.4-million cut sounds like it should be easy to find in the city’s budget, it is actually quite problematic. Perhaps that is why budget debates are often difficult.

More to the point regarding leaf pickup, of 24 Connecticut municipalities surveyed, 21 do not pick up loose leaves. And the two nearby cities that still have loose leaf pickup do not pick up loose leaves for larger properties, which would rule out pickup for much of North Stamford and other parts of the city.

Loose leaf pickup is an environmental and operational challenge. In addition to causing traffic safety issues, loose leaves are too often piled in or near the street and wash into storm drains, and eventually Long Island Sound, which is environmentally damaging to our precious Connecticut resource.

From an operational perspective, each year in order to pick up loose leaves the city hires 40 to 50 additional temporary workers, uses 60 pieces of heavy equipment, incurs thousands of hours in overtime, and spends more than $250,000 just to pay a hauler to take the leaves away — and the challenges are much worse if a major storm hits us during leaf pickup season. Even with all this, major parts of the city feel that leaf pickup is too early, while other parts of the city feel that leaf pickup is too late.

This is a change for homeowners and city operations alike. But this isn’t that complicated. We are simply putting leaves in bags, or asking residents to bring the leaves to city drop-off locations. Or better still, mulch the leaves into your yard.

It is time for Stamford to “Go Green.” It is the environmentally responsible way to go.

Elizabeth “Libby” Carlson is special assistant to Stamford Mayor David Martin on communications.

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