Wake County

Should Raleigh stop picking up loose leaves from sidewalks and streets?

Some city leaders say Raleigh should stop collecting leaves that pile up along curbs and block traffic if it is not willing to spend more money to improve the annual winter task.

The City Council this week considered several options to improve the loose-leaf program in which crews in trucks are supposed to make two passes – once before Christmas and again by the end of February – to collect leaves in neighborhoods. In recent years, residents have complained about leaves staying on sidewalks, streets and yards for weeks because of bad weather and broken equipment.

This year, loose leaves in some neighborhoods won’t be picked up until March.

“My feeling is really given all the priorities we have, we either need to not do this at all and let people bag their own leaves and pick them up with yard waste, or we need to invest and do it in a way that doesn’t leave piles of leaves out in the street for weeks and sometimes months at a time,” said council member Stef Mendell. “My feeling is, let’s either stop doing it or let’s invest and do it in a way that doesn’t cause a safety issue.”

Raleigh could spend up to $50,000 to increase communication about the leaf-collection program and be realistic about the schedule ending in March instead of February, city staff said.

Or the city could more than double the program’s $1.5 million budget to add more equipment and increase staffing. In that case, Raleigh would create regional dump sites and make more collection passes through neighborhoods, including at least two passes before the end of the calendar year.

Other options fall somewhere in the middle.

“It’s a matter of prioritization,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. “We have to make decisions about the whole budget. Is this a place we think we want to put this kind of significant investment, or are there other parts of the city that we think are more important?”

Raleigh residents already have the option to put leaves in clear bags or biodegradable paper bags to be picked up with their trash, but there’s a limit of 15 bags of leaves per week.

The city shouldn’t try to get the “Cadillac or Lexus” of loose-leaf programs and instead should try for a cheaper option, said council member Russ Stephenson.

It’s unclear how much it would cost if Raleigh ends the loose-leaf collection program. Additional staff would likely be needed to pick up bagged leaves.

Charlotte, Durham, Wilmington and Asheville are some of the North Carolina cities that don’t offer loose-leaf collection. Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville, Cary and High Point do offer the service.