Area cities still find room in tight budgets for leaf pickup

Despite the cost, area communities that collect leaves for residents each fall aren’t looking to end or reduce the service.

In Kettering, road crew labor costs, including benefits, will add up to an estimated $350,000 for the season.

In Centerville, where 5,000 “man hours” were required to pick up 3,816 cubic yards of material in 2012, public works director Rob James said, “Nobody has ever suggested that we stop doing it.”

Vandalia superintendent of public works Steve Nickels said it probably costs “about $35 per man hour if you include benefits, and we totaled 1,904 hours on leaf collection in 2012.”

“One of the benefits is helping us meet our stormwater regulations. It keeps leaves and grass out of the stormwater basins,” Nickles said.

Oakwood director of engineering and public works Kevin Weaver said much of the estimated $100,000 bill to haul away 6,800 cubic yards of leaves (the average for the past two years) will be covered by the city’s new $6 per month stormwater utility fee.

Neither Beavercreek nor Bellbrook offers the service, which entails vacuuming up piles or rows of leaves from streets, where residents have deposited them.

The city of Dayton discontinued that in 2010, shifting residents to options including bagging their leaves, transporting them to city sites, or composting them on site.

Huber Heights will make two passes through each neighborhood starting Monday, while Xenia will come around just once.

The city of Springboro is in the second year of mapping the city for several weeks of leaf collection. Assistant public works director Vince Murphy couldn’t pinpoint the cost. “It’s all part of the street department budget,” he said. “But the expense is minimal compared to the service we provide. It’s a great service.”

Miamisburg city vehicles traveled 3,037 miles and used 1,104 gallons of diesel fuel to pick up 2,322 cubic yards of leaves in 2012, said Tim Young, superintendent of public works.

Rules differ widely from one community to the next.

Bellbrook issues warnings and may fine residents who rake or blow their leaves into the street.

Vandalia, according to the city website, will not pick up leaves on the grass behind the curb. In Springboro, however, leaves should be raked to the curb or tree lawn, “but not into the street.”

In Tipp City, dwellers are directed to rake leaves into the street, but leave a foot between them and the curb so storm water can drain.

Tipp’s City Council has voted to end a 64 cents per month fee for leaf pickup because a fund for buying a new machine has reached its goal.

Several cities contract with private landscaping firms that accept or haul away the accumulated leaves, then sometimes sell the mulch back at rates lower than their private customers pay.

George Kuyken, a customer service agent at Greenline Products of West Carrollton, said the company has contracts with communities including Centerville, Oakwood, Miamisburg and Miami Twp.

“Collection this fall has been slower than usual, but the leaves are going to come down sooner or later as long as gravity’s in effect. Rain and wind are a good combination for bringing them down,” he said.

“There’s never enough leaves, though. We start out with a huge pile by the end of fall, but by the start of pickup next season, it’s always gone.”

Springboro hauls its leaves to Grunder Landscaping or Swartz Mulch. Kettering creates its own.

“We have a leaf farm off Spalding Road. We also grind up the brush residents drop off and combine those materials,” Duritsch said.

“Brush dropoff is free for residents and so is mulch pickup. We also use that in city parks and around government buildings,” he said.

Vandalia piles its leaves “in our leaf field. Later, we grind the leaves and brush. We turn that into mulch that people can come and get, or we will deliver it to city residents,” Nickles said.

Weaver said leaf collection is important in Oakwood “because trees are such an important part of the community. Doing away with it hasn’t been discussed. Our focus is always to do it more efficiently and with less expense.”

The city wish list includes “a machine that turns a three-person operation into just one.” The cost to buy it would be paid back by lowering labor costs “by one-third of a person each year,” Weaver said.

James said leaf collection in Centerville “is a huge deal. Our eight-week program started Oct. 7. It requires just about our entire 16-member street department, plus six to eight other seasonal part-time employees.

“Unlike most cities, we used rear-loading refuse trucks that compact the leaves. That allows us to collect six times more leaves per truck,” James said.

“Like most cities, we outfit the same trucks with plows and salt spreaders for snow removal. Early snow is one of the worst things that can happen to us, so we hope we can finish this job before that’s needed.”