Leaf Pickup: Question and Answer

Q: At the candidate forum, you mentioned one way to control town spending and reduce costs was for Trumbull to look at our leaf pick up program. The suggestion you made was to instead consider a bagged program like many surrounding towns. I love the leaf pick up program and really dislike the idea of bagging my own leaves. What’s the thought process behind the idea?

A: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to answer your question. At last week’s first selectman debate, I suggested we look at our leaf pickup program as one potential area for savings. Let me start by reiterating that this was merely a suggestion based on bipartisan discussions that have been had in the past. At the September 14, 2017 Board of Finance meeting, a majority of board members (5-4) polled came out in favor of eliminating the leaf pick up program as a mechanism to increase savings in a tough budget year. I understand how valuable this program is to our town’s residents, particularly our seniors. I would never make a change like this without talking to residents because I’ve always believed in transparency and in soliciting resident feedback.

First and foremost, my goal is to keep taxes stable — it’s what I want, and I know it’s what you want. As a town, we have public safety to maintain, an education system to invest in, and services that the town’s residents need and enjoy. Last March, my caucus proposed $2 million in budget cuts that didn’t impact municipal safety or education. We can do that again — and we can do it with your input. The leaf program is expensive, which is why it makes sense to consider alternatives. That said, it’s just as important to consider the impact of any town-budget-tightening on the welfare and quality of life of our residents.

We’ve got a tight budget year ahead of us. There is uncertainty coming from Hartford, which could leave us with a funding deficit. Hartford aside, the current administration has left us in a tricky position. We have a $1.8 million hole in next year’s budget as the current administration took $1.8 million from the town bank account to artificially lower our taxes. We also have a $1 million “garbage tax” that is accounted for in the budget, but has not been approved by the Town Council. That means whoever takes office in December is going to head into the next budget cycle with a possible $2.8 million gap in our budget.

I believe we can make up some of this ground by reducing excessive and wasteful legal fees and expensive consultants, growing the grand list, and making strategic line item reductions.

In addition to these areas of budget management, I also brought up a suggestion concerning leaf pickup, which has been discussed on a bipartisan basis for years, including by our current First Selectman, as recent as September 2017. As I said above, at the September 14, 2017 Board of Finance meeting, the First Selectman polled all nine members, and in an informal vote, five members came out in favor of eliminating the leaf pick up program. This was a discussion initiated by the First Selectman to address the possible loss of state revenue.  At that meeting, I stressed that I was very concerned about the impact the loss of this program would have on our seniors.

A 2015 town audit report recommends that we look at alternatives to vacuum leaf pickup because of its expense. The internal auditor’s report states that our leaf pickup costs are 10 times the cost of Fairfield’s bagged program, and that our program has significant safety concerns and inefficiencies.

If elected, the first step I would take as it relates to leaf pickup, is to establish a committee of elected officials, public works department staff, local haulers, residents — of all age ranges — and members of local environmental committees, to evaluate available options for leaf management, including vacuum and bagged collection. No matter the outcome, I would not move forward with an alternative leaf management program without putting in place an option for seniors, disabled persons or anyone who is medically challenged to seek support from the town. I would ask clubs and organizations that focus on community service as well as students seeking community service credit to assist those in need. Before any decision is made, I commit to being available to any and all residents who want to contribute to the dialogue. As a member of the Town Council, I worked hard to change the rules to institute public comments at our Town Council meetings. I firmly believe that every resident has a right to be heard on the issues that matter to them most, including leaf pickup. By working together with our neighbors, we can solve our toughest challenges.

2015 Internal Auditor Report: http://www.trumbull-ct.gov/filestorage/7112/7181/Leaf_Pick-up_Program_Alternatives%2C_August_2015.pdf