Stonington no longer will be picking up residents' leaves

Stonington — After more than a decade, the town’s Public Works Department will no longer picking up leaves that homeowners have raked to the edge of their properties this fall.

That’s because the Board of Finance did not fund the purchase of a new leaf vacuum in the 2018-19 budget to replace one of the three owned by the town. The public works department then decided to cut the funding for the entire leaf program. Director of Public Works Barbara McKrell did not respond to questions about the cost of the vacuum and the entire program.

This means that residents will now have to haul their leaves to the transfer station leaf compost area, hire someone to haul them away or find another means of disposing of them.

The public works department will continue to clean up leaves near catch basins and other drainage structures, which is required by state law.

The town has announced the change on its website.

While there has been some social media criticism of the town ending the pickup, First Selectman Rob Simmons said he has not received any phone calls complaining about the leaf pickup program ending.

Simmons said that during the administration of former First Selectman Ed Haberek, the leaf collection program was dramatically expanded to pick up leaves in front of homes in addition to around catch basins and drainage structures.

Simmons said that shortly after he was elected in 2015, some owners of local landscaping firms told him they were losing business by having the town pick up leaves for free. Simmons said the finance board decided not to fund the third leaf vacuum and other equipment because of decreased state aid and the need to pay off debt on the new elementary school while avoiding a large tax hike. Simmons added that nine highway employees worked on the leaf pickup program and now some of them can work on other tasks.

Simmons said he hopes that residents will not pile leaves along the street as they are used to doing.

“People are much more public spirited than that,” he said about the likelihood of discarded leaves becoming a problem.

Simmons said he is worried about how the elderly and people who are handicapped will deal with their leaves. He said they could ask for help, hire someone or maybe reach out to the high school for students looking for community service work.

Eric Beverly, who owns Cedar Ridge Landscaping in Pawcatuck and serves on the town’s Beautification Committee, said he expects to get calls from people looking for leaf pickup. While he said he and his fellow landscape company owners will be able to take on some people, he said they may not be able to help everyone due to existing customers.

“I was shocked,” he said about the elimination of the program. "You just can't take something like that away."

He also questioned if the town has a contingency plan to pick up leaves that are discarded along the streets.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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