Video: City will “provide residents the opportunity to keep their leaves” this year. Watch the presentation here
[Editor’s Note: A council candidate recently claimed that the council “cancelled” the leaf vacuuming prior to this meeting and we repeated his claims at the time. We apologize for the error.]
Lexington, KY–The Urban County Council officially voted to cancel the leaf vacuuming program today. As recently as yesterday, 311 operators were telling residents the program “is definitely still happening,” so this is a very last minute move.
While the Council did pass some funding for the PR rollout last meeting, the program hadn’t been officially cancelled until today. Only At-Large Council Member Richard Moloney voted against the move. We’ve got the video from today and the recently approved minutes from the 9/23/22 meeting on leaf vacuuming below.
Minutes from prior meeting on leaf vacuuming
Nancy Albright, Commissioner of Environmental Quality & Public Works, spoke about the 2022 Vacuum
Leaf Collection program and challenges that have surfaced this year. Some labor challenges include
employee turnover, a more restrictive federal CDL requirement, and a historic unemployment rate. She
spoke about equipment challenges and since 2021, 3 rear loading garbage trucks were redlined. Dump
trucks slow the process and require additional coordination for leaf disposal. She pointed out that new
equipment will take a year to acquire. Service challenges include staffing and available equipment,
capacity, and longer collection time. A challenge with staffing is this will now take 12-15 weeks for
completion as opposed to the previous completion in 7 weeks. This could lead to a new set of complaints.
She reviewed options for 2022 Leaf Collection: 1. Provide service with existing LFUCG staffing and
contractor or 2. Expand Republic Services contract area to take another quadrant. She pointed out that
the contractor is experiencing staffing issues as well. Work is still being done on and it is recommended
that the contract be extended. Yard waste alternatives include hauling to Haley Pike, using a private
landscaper/hauler, using yard waste bins and/or bags, mulching/mowing, and backyard composting.
Expanded alternatives would be waiving the fee for a 2nd grey bin, and advertise environmentally friendly
Kay mentioned that even when the program is working, it doesn’t work. He spoke about complaints
regarding the program because of the unpredictable leaf dropping. He suggested discontinuing the
program and spending more money on relaying information to the public about grey bins and the
recyclable bags. He understands those would be picked up as part of the normal routine for yard waste at no additional cost. We should let people know that we will no longer have this program because it is not a good use of the city’s money.
Kloiber asked about the salary breakdown for this program which Albright did not have, but she said she
will send this following the meeting. Kloiber said the justification for this was to remove leaves from the
storm water system and asked if there is evidence to show that this has been successful. Charlie Martin,
Director of Division of Water Quality, said it is isolated in certain areas, but we have them in areas we are
not serving. Kloiber said that by not accomplishing the task this was intended for and with the increased costs and the amount of complaints, he agrees with Kay’s recommendation to discontinue the program
and find alternatives that might help with these problems moving forward.
Bledsoe said there is an opportunity cost that is lost for every dollar amount we spend on this that we are
not spending on something that is a better value for the taxpayer. She said we have finally reached a point where we can’t meet the expectation from a personnel perspective, not to mention equipment and
whether this is working to achieve the goal. She asked if there is a way to add more grey bins and have
them picked up more often. Albright referenced previous discussions internally where they talked about
not utilizing the vacuum. She said Division of Streets and Roads could assist Division of Waste
Management with collection, but it is difficult for them to do both (vacuum and pick up) at the same time.
Bledsoe and Albright clarified that if we are not going to do the vacuum leaf collection, we could reallocate some opportunities to ease the burden on the waste side and provide better services to the tax payer.
Sheehan is interested in more of the stormwater data and she has concerns about complaints that will be
heard when these services are discontinued. She expressed concern about the cost and taxes people pay for city services who will now be receiving less for what they are paying. She mentioned that the program is helpful for people with mobility issues and asked if there are alternatives that could be explored. She spoke about a change last year in the way this information is provided on the web site and asked if it has been successful. Poe said last year we put out the map and we put out an anticipated schedule with a disclaimer that it could change due to unpredictability of weather, equipment, personnel, or other challenges. She said they talked about not putting out a schedule this year because of how unpredictable it is and with the challenges Commissioner Albright reviewed. Albright spoke about the mobility challenged residents and she noted that there is an alternative that allows the Division of Waste
Management to get their cart(s) from the side of the house so they don’t have to bring them to the street.
Moloney asked about the pothole crews that were assigned to leaf collection last year and if this has been monitored. Albright said they would have to look because there will only be a year of data and there are several factors involved. Moloney has concerns with the discontinuing the problem this close to when the leaf collection would be starting. Albright said the intention was to execute as we have in the past and the intention was not to bring concerns because we have been trying to find ways to make it work.
Bledsoe expressed sympathy for the 5th district because when the program doesn’t work, it is a waste of
tax payer money and taxpayers are not getting what was promised to them. We can’t continue this when
it is not working for the greater good of the community.
Motion by Bledsoe to request the administration to continue to develop a leaf collection program without
using the vacuums in consideration of what that means to the rest of our departments and with respect
to Republic Services. Seconded by Kay. Motion passed 7-3 (Yes: Bledsoe, F. Brown, Kay, Kloiber, LeGris,
McCurn, and Worley; No: Ellinger, Moloney, and Sheehan).
Kay asked if we could potentially renegotiate the contract for Republic Services or back away from it.
Albright said it would be difficult to back away from it at this point, but we could potentially redirect how
we use them. She pointed out that it is a short-term contract. Kay feels that notifying the public that the
program isn’t working and encouraging them to shift the way they think about it, will change the culture.
People will begin to think about this differently and they will understand they need a bin, bags, or they
need to mulch.
Worley supported motion and said it was a good starting point and the numbers make sense for stopping
this. By taking away the vacuum and redirecting Republic Services, he asked what capacity we would be
gaining and what cost we are saving by discontinuing the program. Albright said this is difficult to quantify on the spot, but she will look into this. Worley is concerned if we are gaining enough capacity back and saving enough money to justify this piece and if we are overburdening anyone else. Albright said staff would be available to assist DWM. Worley asked for data to be presented to the full council that will show capacity efficiencies, cost savings, and overburdening other agencies which are things that will need to be considered.
Moloney does not support because this is the time of year when people will prepare for leaf collection.
These types of decisions should be made earlier in the year. People need more notice to become familiar
with what they need to do. Giving people a one-month notice before discontinuing a program they have
been expecting sends the wrong message.
Sheehan is open to seeing proposals of what this could look like in the future, but she can’t support cutting the program at this point without seeing what that would look like. She is in favor of adding additional leaf collection bags and using the grey bins as much as possible and increasing the communication. If we cut the program, Sheehan asked what the new role would be for Republic Services. Albright said this is something she would have to explore and work out since they are under contract right now. It could vary depending on whether the vacuum leaf collection program is cancelled or if the program is repurposed.
We would have to determine what their new role is – whether they would provide support to Waste
Management or service more of the mobility-challenged people. She said there are challenges in front of
figuring out how this will look different Kloiber supports the motion and said working with the administration to develop this is the best way to move forward on this today rather than saying we are discontinuing the entire program without an alternative plan.
Kay emphasized that if this program had mostly been working well or if the Commissioner came to us
today and she they are ready to go with program this year, he would agree that the timing is not right and
we should hold off on discontinuing the program. But neither of these is the case. This program has not
been working and we do not have the resources right now to make it work. The right move is to move
forward and let the community know we are making a shift.
F. Brown is in favor of the motion and said it is time we say that vacuum leaf collection is not working so
let’s do away with that part of it. He requested a plan to replace vacuum leaf collection be brought back
to committee next month.
Bledsoe and Albright discussed the timeline and Albright explained that between now and the next
conversation, they would develop a couple of options for how this could look different. With the next
committee meeting being October 11, they would want to start communicating with the public in early
October. Bledsoe suggested that upon this passing in committee, a new plan could be presented to Work Session for the full Council to consider which could move this along faster and also provide time for
another conversation. Ellinger and F. Brown clarified that, upon passage out of committee, this could be
reported out today with the intention that an alternative plan will be presented on October 11.
[At this time a vote was taken on the motion.]
Motion by Kay to suspend the rules and have the motion stated above reported out at Work Session
today, September 13, 2022. Seconded by McCurn. Motion passed 9-1 (Yes: Ellinger, Bledsoe, F. Brown,
Kay, Sheehan, Kloiber, LeGris, McCurn, and Worley; No: Moloney).
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