Why Naperville won't reduce curbside leaf collection program

  • The Naperville City Council this week rejected a proposal from the public works department to scale back its leaf pickup obligations.

    The Naperville City Council this week rejected a proposal from the public works department to scale back its leaf pickup obligations. Getty images

Posted4/19/2019 5:33 AM

If you would've asked Naperville City Council members when they were first elected to predict what issue they'd hear about most from residents, few would have guessed it'd be leaves.

And yet last fall, when an early snowstorm delayed the city's curbside collection program by a week, Mayor Steve Chirico and other council members said there was "no question" they received more comments and complaints than ever before.


That's why the council this week unanimously shot down a proposal from the public works department to scale back its leaf pickup obligations from a six-week, three-cycle program to four weeks and two cycles. The fall service, which has existed in Naperville for more than 25 years, is far too important to their constituents, officials said.

"I'm not about to vote to reduce that in any way, shape or form," Councilman John Krummen said. "Our residents highly value the leaf pickup, and in no way am I going to change that."

However, council members agreed the city needs to explore ways to strengthen the program to ensure it remains sustainable.

The service allows residents to pile their leaves at the curb to be picked up and disposed of by the public works department three times each fall. The first collection cycle begins six weeks before Thanksgiving.

Employees have encountered issues in recent years with aging equipment, unpredictable weather patterns and a lack of time to prepare for winter, Public Works Director Dick Dublinski said. As trees developed and Naperville grew in the past quarter-century, he said, the program has become more difficult to manage.

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Those challenges led to the department's proposal to cut out the last collection cycle, which would save about $45,000, Dublinski said. Residents could then use the city's free bagged leaf program, which extends from October to mid-December, to get rid of their remaining leaves.

But resident Dorothy Lockwood said she and her neighbors already are bagging leaves that continue to fall long after the city's third pickup. Eliminate that last cycle, she said, and the problem only gets worse.

"That means the leaves are going to pile even higher," she said.

Rather than cut down the service, council members suggested looking into options for making it more efficient, such as outsourcing any necessary snow removal during the six-week leaf collection period. Other suggestions included seeking new equipment and reducing the program to two cycles in areas with fewer trees.

"(Residents) don't want to see us take an action that they perceive to be a step backward in terms of service level, and the savings we're talking about are in no way commensurate with the degree to which the community values this program," Councilman Kevin Coyne said. "I think it's clear that this is a program that we need to protect."

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