Fifty-eight Crossett residents attended a public meeting at the Crossett Economic Development building Monday night to hear from the city council about what the council characterizes as the current dilemma with leaf, limb and trash pickup.
Councilwoman Lynn Rodgers chaired the meeting and opened by discussing what the city council has learned the past two years while researching the issues and feasibility of leaf, limb and junk pickup in the city.
“Our current ordinances and the services don’t line up,” Rodgers said.
According to the city ordinance, leaf, limb and junk pickup services were not supposed to be complimentary, but city employees say that they’ve never known the city to charge.
“This was never intended to come out of the general fund, but I’ve been with the city 13 years and as far as I know there has never been a bill sent out,” Public Works Director Jeff Harrison said.
Harrison said he thinks the problem began during a city-wide cleanup years ago when fees were waived and then never reinforced.
In addition to the current pickup routines breaking city ordinance, the city also learned they were illegally disposing of leaves. The issue of where to legally put the leaves once picked up was the topic that started the entire discussion of rearranging the Street and Sanitation Department, trash pickup included.
Harrison went over the options of revising or rearranging the street and sanitation department with the residents in attendance.
The first option requires the city to spend nearly $190,000 on a burn curtain for limbs, a truck and front end loader to haul leaves to the landfill. Option one also requires that two full-time, CDL-licensed employees be hired to run the trucks and a full-time employee be hired to operate the burn curtain.
The second option Harrison presented was to discontinue the leaf and limb pickup service and assign the employees who currently work in that area to pothole repair, crack sealing streets, sign maintenance and repair, street striping and litter control, areas Harrison said have been neglected because the leaf and limb pickup takes up so much man power from the current employees.
The third option was to keep the leaf pickup, but pick up bagged leaves only. Harrison said the city would need to purchase a flatbed truck and hydraulic dump trailer, which would cost around $65,000. This option would require two employees to pick up and haul the leaves to and from the landfill.
The fourth option presented was to discontinue both services and pass an ordinance prohibiting burning in the city limits and the property owners take care of all limbs/leaves at their own expense.
Harrison talked about services in the city that are currently being neglected because the leaf and limb service puts such a strain on the city. Harrison said that the leaf machine that the city currently uses only picks up four cubic yards of leaves at a time and might make several trips for one yard. Multiple trips are the reason that there are sometimes as many as 25 days before the city is able to get to a residence to pick up leaves.
In addition to the mentioned issues, the free service is also creating an outlet for contractors to take advantage of the city. Harrison said that when a resident hires a contractor to mow their yard, they are supposed to dispose of the leaves and limbs. However, there is an issue with yard contractors leaving the leaves and limbs for the city.
“We have no way of knowing who raked the leaves by the road, it just looks like leaves,” Harrison said.
The city also has an issue with contractors remodeling and leaving materials for the junk truck with the city having no way to determine whether a resident did the work themselves or a contractor left a portion of the work behind for the city to pick up.
Harrison said rather than the city charging everyone for a service that he wasn’t sure the city could provide efficiently, each individual could decide how they wanted to have their leaves and limbs disposed of.
“It’s not the city’s responsibility to clean up your yard,” Harrison said.
Harrison also said that the current way the city picks up trash is very unsafe and that the trash system needs to be upgraded, which would be an element in reorganizing the street and sanitation system.
Harrison said that trash is a service the city should provide, and Crossett needs a major upgrade before focusing on some of the other services. Harrison said other cities had been contacted and that Crossett is the only city, to his knowledge, that provides the same type of services for free.
Harrison said there is a neighboring city that not only charges for leaf pickup, but also charges $100 per item for junk pickup, which is something the city of Crossett has offered for free for years.
The city picks up junk as requested and has been footing the bill for dumping expenses for all residents in the city limits.
Overall, the City of Crossett has set very high expectations for services that aren’t feasible and that the city can not afford, he said.
Harrison closed by talking about storm pickup and the additional strain that it puts on the city.
“Even after a storm, is the city’s responsibility to clean the streets, but not your yard,” Harrison said.
Harrison said after the storm, the city not only cleared the streets and helped people with their yards, but also paid $800 to dispose of a tree from a home owner’s yard.
“A lady said what am I supposed to do with it, I was told you clean it up,” Harrison said.
Harrison said if a tree falls in the street, the city workers are supposed to clear it from the street and push the debris into the yard it fell from. The city has to keep the roads open for emergency vehicles, cable service, electric company and other services that may be affected in a storm.
Rodgers opened the floor and the audience members were hesitant at first, but once the first question was asked several hands went in the air.
Susan Pendergrass opened the discussion by asking what the residents were supposed to do with leaves if the city didn’t pick them up and burning them was outlawed.
Rodgers said that residents would have to mulch them or if that wasn’t an option call a tree contractor.
Belvin Hamm with the Crossett Riding Club said the CRC has a 40-acre plot in the middle of town and that they burn a few times a year to maintain their property.
“We don’t burn that often, but we take care of a 40-acre tract and one rule won’t fit everyone,” Hamm said.
Rodgers said she couldn’t address the issue because a burn ban wasn’t in place yet, but should it go in to effect she didn’t know how they could make exceptions for one without making them for everyone.
Glenn Newton brought up the point that some residents not only have their own trees to worry about, but have other environmental factors as well.
Newton lives by the park and there is nothing to prevent the park leaves from covering his yard, which made his situation different from those in other neighborhoods.
Several attendees asked that the city simply charge a fee and continue leaf pickup so that people wouldn’t feel obligated to burn their leaves.
“Half of Crossett will be sick,” resident Marsha Scott said.
Dr. Kenneth Richards of Crossett said that there is already so much COPD and asthma and that he hoped the city would encourage residents against burning in an effort to keep those already high numbers from increasing.
Others pointed out that some yards have gas lines in the front and sewer lines in the back, leaving them no safe place to burn their leaves.
“Please, please pass an ordinance so that people don’t burn,” resident Charles Noble said.
Others said they were concerned about how stopping the service would affect the area real estate.
Scott, area resident Bob Rush and others said that they would rather pay a fee than see the city stop the service.
“We can’t make them mulch and the city will become unsightly,” Scott said.
Harrison said that the city had not found an efficient way to charge residents for the service.
“If you’re paying for the service, you’re not going to want to wait 18 days for us to get around to your yard and right now that’s the best we can do,” Harrison said.
Resident Pam Clay suggested that the city sell bags for leaves and only pick up leaves in the designated bags.
“If you only pick up leaves per bag and the bags are stamped, identified, you could control it,” Clay said.
Clay’s bag idea would only resolve the leaf issue and not the limb issue because the landfill will not take limbs, even in a bag.
Resident Cal Tucker suggested that the council come up with a budget that would take care of keeping the city beautiful and come up with a tax to fund it.
“We aren’t all going to agree, but you could come up with a tax straight across to keep our city beautiful,” Tucker said.
Hartley suggested that the city contact the City of Ruston, La., because it seems to have a system that works. Hartley also said he was concerned about how bad the leaves would be if the city stopped the service.
“I don’t see how we can stop, we currently pick them up and we already see a problem, they are already in the gutters and storm drains,” Hartley said.
Hartley also brought up the homes who have so much shade that the grass is limited and therefore the homeowners aren’t able to “mulch.”
“One thing I’ve heard collectively is that the citizens would be willing to pay for this service, a service we should have already been paying for, but thank you for spoiling us for the last 13 years,” Hartley said.
Hartley said residents were also spoiled to having year-round leaf pickup, and if the city cut back to just three months per year, it might encourage people to rake their yard sooner rather than later, which would also contribute to beautification of the city.
Some of the attendees had questions about the newly presented trash system, which is also called the “one-armed bandit.” The new system involves city issued barrels and would make trash pick up more manegable.
Residents were concerned about the amount of garbage the issued cans could hold and how the city would prevent them from being stolen or removed from a home once issued.
Harrison said the cans all have serial numbers and would be easy to trace and that residents would not be limited to just one.
Rodgers said the city could implement a fine for those who leave their garbage can by the road seven days a week. The new policy would help cut down on the garbage cans being removed, or stolen, and also make the city look nicer.
“It would encourage residents to bring those cans in, let everyone see your home instead of your garbage can,” Rodgers said.
Harrison talked about the safety issues of the current system including the employees hopping on and off the back of vehicles.
“This is the only place I’ve ever seen people riding on the back of the truck,” Richards said.
Harrison said the one-arm bandit would not only be safer, but would use fewer employees.
Some residents were concerned about being limited to one garbage can. Harrison said that residents could purchase additional cans.
Resident Renee Hackworth suggested that people take advantage of the recycling center that the city has available. Hackworth said that her trash has been cut to “nearly nothing” since she started taking paper, plastic and boxes to the recycling center.
Others were concerned about the new trash system because they didn’t want to see any employees lose their jobs.
“None of this involves cutting staff,” Harrison said.
Resident Charlotte Rush asked if changing to a trash service that used less manpower than the current one would allow the city to focus more on leaves.
Rodgers said that would be a possibility the council could consider.
Harrison asked if the residents were aware that the city could get fined for leaves in the storm drains or if people were aware that it is illegal to allow a lawn mower to dump lawn trimmings back into the street.
“A lot of the problem is people simply not following the rules,” Harrison said.
Only one suggestion was made in regards to the junk truck and that was that maybe the city should let the junk “take care of itself.” Noble suggested that the city could save money by leaving the junk on the side of the road and letting others pick it up.
“You would be surprised what people will pick up, so give people a chance to come get it and be careful about coming too soon because if you wait, there may not be anything for you to pick up,” Noble said.
Noble said there are those who look for junk items such as the ones typically left out by the road and they might relieve the city of the problem free of charge.
Resident Maurice Williams said that he hoped the council would have another public meeting before any decisions were made. Williams said he didn’t believe that the council should be allowed to make the decision alone and that it should be brought back to the citizens for a collective assessment.
“I would like to come back on the 25th, I know a lot of us would and after we all get together, come up with a decision,” Williams said.
Rodgers said that the council would take note of all the ideas presented and keep them in mind when making their decisions in the Feb. 25 council meeting.