By Charlie Feldman
The Troy City Council’s recent decision to ban leaf burning and to make residential yard waste hauling mandatory has left some residents with more questions than answers.
At its October 5 meeting, the council voted for a six-year agreement with Republic Services that bundled the rates for trash, recycling and yard waste and made residential yard waste hauling mandatory in an effort to dispose of leaves after approving a ban on burning them. At first, those who did not use Republic Services would have had to pay the hauling fee anyway.
But after public outcry, largely through social media posts, the board revised its stance at its October 19 meeting, attended by members of the public who came to speak against the leaf-burning ban. Changing the question for public discussion scheduled that night (the public spoke at length on the ban anyway), the board then voted that those who are not in the yard waste program won’t have to pay the fee, which will be billed to participants through the water department.
The leaf burning ban remains.
So does the public outcry, largely through social media posts.
A popular Troy-related Facebook group recently had a conversation thread where some residents suggested blowing the leaves into the street (a possibly fatal hazard for motorcyclists was one reply), burning them anyway because they are burning pallets in Troy Park (there was a photo), burning them because no formal communication on this change has yet come in the mail, and using a leaf blower that might possibly be purchased by the city. And residents have expressed concerns offline as well.
A longtime Troy resident who did not wish to be named has never had a problem with burning leaves. With five trees in her back yard and those of her neighbor’s shedding onto her property, the month of November can translate into at least eight or nine bags and – this year alone – a “mountain” of raked and mulched leaves nearly 15 feet long and 4 feet wide, by her account. She said it cost $100 to blow this year’s leaves off the roof, gutters and downspout and there was more the next day.
So she tried burning them “a little bit at a time” in her back yard. A policeman told her nicely to stop. She is not happy that the city banned leaf burning without putting the issue on the ballot like last time.
The 1991 referendum
This issue was put to Troy voters 21 years ago. A referendum on the spring ballot to ban leaf burning failed 518 to 303. The cost to the city of disposing of unburned leaves was a factor – an extra $7.50 per month on everyone’s Midland Waste bill.
The city did not have the money in its budget to pay $300,000 for a leaf truck and $150,000 for the employees to use it each year, according to Tom Caraker, Troy’s mayor at the time. And some residents thought mulching cost too much time and effort, according to a front page story in the April 8, 1999 Times-Tribune.
More than two decades later, however, one resident – the one with the leaf disposal problems mentioned previously – believes that this time the issue should have gone to the people first.
“We the people voted to be able to burn,” she said. “Now, who has priority, the city council and the big shots in the city of Troy or the people who need the burning issue?” Now it’s too late, she said, the trees are bare.
“When the people had this on a ballot and had the ability to burn, how can they override that? That sort of tells me that the powers-to-be up there think they should be able to override the people. Am I wrong?
“I think that if they’re not going to allow us to burn, they shouldn’t sock it to us on those trash and water bills. We shouldn’t have to pay for this,” she said.
She suggested that the city rent a suction truck to collect leaves and announce to residents when and where it was going to use it. She suggested that some of the tourism dollars could pay for it to help keep Troy beautiful.
“That is what the city council is for,” she said. “They work for us, supposedly.”
Other local municipalities are dealing with the tree trash problem in other ways.
Maryville – with other communities in Collinsville Township including parts of Collinsville that are unincorporated or in Madison County and a small area of Glen Carbon and Pontoon Beach – held a no-contact leaf collection days at a central drop-off point on Saturday, November 21. Another is scheduled on December 12. Proof of residency is required.
At City Hall
Mayor Allen Adomite was swamped with COVID-19-related closures when the Times-Tribune asked him about the leaf burning issue. He said that as for formal communication from the city, he thought Republic Services was in charge of notifying its customers about the changes and that he was contacting them to help clear the confusion.
The legislative intent for the fines imposed for burning leaves, according to the minutes from the October 5 city council meeting, was to take the proceeds and use them to rebate subscribers for the cost of the hauling services, which has been lowered by the bundling from $13.49 to $10.49 per month and then to $8.49 per month when the city begins billing on May 1. Moving the billing for trash and recycling to the city’s water bill not only saved money for consumers and for the city as well, but it also provided the opportunity to ban the burning of leaves and yard waste. Citing the medical concerns of the populace, the mayor and members of the city council amended the old ordinance concerning leaf burning. Overall, the council decided that if a ban on burning yard waste was in place, the city should be offered a way to remove it. Up to two free 95-gallon drums per subscriber are now available from April through December through Republic Services.
The material from the yard waste bins will be used for cover in the landfill site. Tree trash goes on, with or without a referendum to remove it the old way.