Just as leaves are starting to fall in abundance this Autumn, residents in the Town of East Hampton will no longer have a town-sponsored leaf pick-up program, effective immediately, after the East Hampton Town Board voted to suspend the service last Thursday night, citing fiscal constraints as the town grapples with a $30 million deficit.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and councilman Dominick Stanzione supported the change in law, sponsored by councilwoman Theresa Quigley, with board members Julia Prince and Pete Hammerle voting against ending the program.
“This isn’t a controversial one,” joked Quigley prior to the vote.
The change in law, quietly adopted during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, October 21, comes after residents argued the benefits and problems of the annual program during a two-hour public hearing earlier this month.
During that public hearing, residents debated the actual savings ending the program would have, the environmental benefits, and whether or not a town-sponsored volunteer program would be sufficient to aid seniors and the infirm in the disposal of their leaves.
Town natural resources director Larry Penny and town environmental analyst Brian Frank recommended that residents either mow leaves into their grass, create compost piles on their properties, or, if those methods prove difficult, bag the leaves and bring them to the town recycling center, where they will be accepted free-of-charge.
Quigley and Wilkinson have maintained that ending the leaf pick-up program, which is handled by the town’s highway department, could save upwards of $500,000 in salaries, benefits and maintenance costs at a time when the town needs to cut spending in the wake of a $30 million deficit left by the former McGintee administration.
Highway superintendent Scott King has publicly opposed ending the program, preferring the town adopt a bagged leaf pick-up program in its stead to save on costs. King has said, barring cuts in staffing in his department, ending the program will only save taxpayers about $180,000 annually.
However, veteran highway superintendent Chris Russo, who served at the helm of that department for close to 20 years, supported the board’s initiative, stating the real savings will be found in the highway department’s ability to use the estimated two-months of labor devoted to leaf pick-up towards other highway projects throughout the town.