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The future of La Crosse’s leaf collection program is uncertain as costs rise and resources dwindle; however, it will proceed this fall after a discussion Monday by the Board of Public Works.

Mayor Tim Kabat

Kabat

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat brought together city staff from four different departments to try and find a solution, saying if the city is going to pick up leaves in the fall, then it needs to do it right.

“It boils down to, from the city’s perspective, are we going to provide this service or not?” Kabat said. “I don’t want to go through another two seasons like we have the last two, where we’ve not performed that service the way it should be.”

In 2017 and 2018, the city began collecting leaves Oct. 2 and continued until snow made it impossible. La Crosse spent $223,000 in 2017 and $276,000 in 2018 gathering 792 and 670 loads of leaves, respectively. That cost has more than doubled since 2005, when the city spent $98,974 to collect 547 loads of leaves.

Phil Ostrem mug

Ostrem

Not only has the city’s Street Department heard from residents unhappy with the service — it received 222 phone calls about leaf pickup last fall — but council members like Phillip Ostrem also have heard from their constituents. Something needs to be done, said Ostrem, who is also a member of the board.

“We need to fix our pick-up plan so people can either count on it or let it go entirely, but it’s too late to let it go for this year,” Ostrem said.

Leaders from the Street, Utility and Parks and Recreation departments, as well as the Municipal Transit Utility, joined the board Monday morning to come up with a plan to pick up leaves in October.

Initial plans call for eight crews to begin the pick-up in mid-October and continue for six weeks using drivers and other staff members from several city departments on a rotating schedule and hiring some additional seasonal employees to fill in the gaps.

The board will discuss whether utility employees will join them next month when it has a better idea of what the impact would be if those employees are diverted from their typical fall activities of cleaning and inspecting sanitary sewer infrastructure and storm water catch basins.

Finding the seasonal employees to do the raking and vacuuming up of the leaves will be a challenge, however, say city staffers. While they hire extra help, workers generally don’t last long on leaf collection. They work for a few days and then stop showing up, according to city staff.

Kabat said he would work on figuring out how to fund the additional seasonal employees.

The board also discussed hiring contractors, but the funding isn’t in the city’s 2019 budget, and it would be difficult to find a company both capable and willing to take on the job.

Jason Gilman

Jason Gilman, La Crosse City Planner

While the city is gathering leaves in 2019, city planner Jason Gilman suggested it gather some data as well. He said it would help city officials make some difficult decisions if they knew who was taking advantage of the program and whether there were ways to encourage them to try out other options, like composting or mulching, or taking their leaves to the free drop-off points located throughout the city.

“I wonder how much we’re looking at the data because it seems like a service that is just sort of a given every year. But times are changing, and we’ve got to look at that stuff closer,” Gilman said.

The city has collected leaves for years, largely to keep them out of the street, where they flow into storm drains and block the sewers. If it did eliminate the service, city staff would still need to sweep streets to keep those clean, and the city would need an enforcement plan for people who rake their leaves into the street illegally.

“Obviously this is pretty dicey because the residents of La Crosse have become accustomed to this service and there’s going to be a pushback from the city residents if we go forward in the future and start cutting this service,” said council member David Marshall.

However, he doesn’t think the leaf collection is sustainable when compared to the city’s other priorities and limited resources.

“It’s unfortunate because there are a number of people in our city who would not be able to do their own leaf pick-up,” he said. And while he acknowledged the city was unable to force them, Marshall said people would have to step-up and help their neighbors.

Council member Barb Janssen agreed, saying the city needed to look at other options and priorities, and possibly look at sponsoring a Neighbors Day type event in the fall to help those who cannot get rid of their own leaves.

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Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.

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City government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

(8) comments

LSE tax-payer

Just let the wind blow the leaves into the streets, maybe with a little help from a leaf blower!!! The clowns at city hall always “find” the cash for their pet projects like parks, ball fields, TIFs for the good old boys, round a bouts, bike lanes, new building replacing 20 year old buildings, trips overseas, parking ramps for the good old boys, replacing equipment and vehicles that are just a few years old because of abuse and lack of maintenance! City hall and the city clowncel needs a good house cleaning and over half of the morons need to be fired and replaced with people that are smart enough to balance a check book and stick to a budget!!!

Rick Czeczok

The mayor is doing the same thing he did with his family business;running it into bankruptcy. He has let roads go down the tubes, streets don't get swept, snow doesnt get cleared from the gutters (except downtown). So just what do we pay some of the highest taxes in the state for? If you stop collecting leaves get ready for floods when the sewers plug with them. What are you thinking of? Stop giving TIF's to every project that comes along and you will have tax dollars to help pay for these necessary services. Stop all the pet projects, you just gave $375,000 to a neighborhood group. Take that money back, along with all other programs like this that you have going on in this city.and use it for streets and leaves. Does one hand know what the other is doing in city hall anymore.

let it go

Problem is you leave leaves that clog drains. The city does not rake them so why not just give citizens bags to fill and have a specified pick up date. If bagged and waiting they will not be affected by snow as much. This is for people who do not drive or have a truck to get the leaves to the drop off site.

Buena Vista

I am beginning to believe that the city of La Crosse, which I once loved, is headed in the wrong direction, totally. I agree with the comments left here earlier. - You can't fund leaf collection, yet you pay a parking officer or two 7 nights a week for 5 months out of the year to write alternate side parking tickets?

Berks

If we don't have money to fund our current programs then I guess we don't have money for an expanded La Crosse Center, and LOL@ that indoor farmers market in the old K Mart. The City needs to provide a baseline of services: Roads, water, sewer, trash collection, police, and fire, before they even think about any humanities or these feel good projects.

How much money did they spend ripping out the ball field to put in that autism park on Jackson and West? We could have funded leaf collection for a decade with what they spent on that. Stupid stupid stupid.

madmen60

The city is short sighted and fiscally reckless. We need a leader who has the foresight and fiscal discipline to run our city. Our current mayor, who has filed for personal bankruptcy, is not doing a good job.

Berks

Kabat's actually been somewhat fiscally responsible and better than I thought he would be when he got elected. Not as good as Harter, but better than Medinger , and much better than Johnsrud.

random annoying bozo

isn't this one of things that was supposed to be paid for by that 'rain water' tax? where is that money now going??

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