Elected leaders who want to ban leaf burning in St. Joseph County find themselves in a compromising position.
It looks like companion proposals to ban leaf burning and to re-establish a leaf pickup program will have to be altered to be acceptable.
David Kahlmorgan lives in southern St. Joseph County where a huge burn barrel is a permanent fixture in his backyard. “Right now I do burn mine,” said Kahlmorgan. “With a screen on top and it doesn’t make much mess and I only burn them about three weeks.”
Kahlmorgan doesn’t burn leaves because he wants to—he burns them because he feels he has to. Kahlmorgan feels that need would not go away if St. Joseph County goes to a curbside leaf pickup program that offers each homeowner just one pass.
“Three is going to be enough, but one is not enough for the pickup,” said Kahlmorgan. “Especially the oak trees, they’re last, about November, December they’ll come down and if you can’t burn them or get rid of them that way they're going to be sitting around here. I’m afraid my neighbors aren’t going to be picking them up either and they’re going to be blowing around and making a mess.”
When the county first went out for bids, its leaf pickup plans called for two visits to each neighborhood—but that proved to be too expensive. “Personally I prefer the two passes, but this is what we could afford at this point,” said Councilman Mike Hamann. “If it’s not enough, then obviously we’re going to take a look at a hard look at it and see if we can make some adjustment.”
The pickup program in its current form might not be good enough to earn support for a companion proposal that, as introduced, calls for a total ban on leaf burning in residential areas.
“What I'm hearing from council is they're not looking at an overall ban, they're going to try to do this incrementally and maybe have allow for a week or two in the spring or a week or two in the fall so that way it could help that transition period of folks who are struggling even the one pickup may not be enough so they still have some remedy,” said Commissioner Kostielney.
If the program is to be ready for this fall, council members will have to make a final decision on its fate by the end of July.
A key vote is scheduled for a meeting this evening when council members will be asked to appropriate $750,000 for leaf pickup in its CEDIT or Community Economic Development Income Tax account.
The request should provide an indication as to whether council members want to move forward, or take a step back.