City crews are done picking up leaves

FAIRMONT – While crunching numbers at a budget session this summer, Fairmont City Council decided to cut back on its leaf-pickup program, having city crews make only one sweep through town.

Not everyone got the memo.

Throughout Fairmont, residents have still been raking their leaves to the curb, expecting workers to come through a second time to vacuum and haul the leaves away.

They’ll have a long time to wait, though.

“We’re done for the year,” said Fairmont’s Public Works director Troy Nemmers.

Following the council’s orders, crews dedicated three weeks to residential leaf duty, spending one week each on the south, north and middle sections of town. Leaf pickup began Monday, Oct. 21, and wrapped up Friday, Nov. 8.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with the advertised schedule.

“The leaves fell late and then we got some snow, which caused problems for everyone,” Nemmers said.

Already, city staff are brainstorming ideas for next year.

“We have to look at better alternatives, how to be more flexible in the future and more efficient so we can offer better service,” Nemmers said.

Part of the problem is the unpredictable nature of Mother Nature. Knowing what week leaves will fall in a particular neighborhood is a near-impossible task. The later in the season, the likelier it is the leaves will have dropped – but the likelihood of snowfall also increases.

“It would be nice if we could wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, and then get out there right away when the leaves fall, but we have to … give enough notice so people can plan for it as well,” Nemmers said.

When the city first purchased the leaf vacuum in 2009, the machine got a trial run that spring, with City Hall taking calls from residents who were ready to have their leaves picked up. That fall, scheduled sweeps of the city began, but the system didn’t run as smoothly as elected officials had hoped when they approved the purchase of the leaf vacuum.

As it turns out, one vacuum isn’t enough to keep up with the amount of leaves residents rake to the curb each fall. To keep up, two additional crews have had to help, using skid loaders to scoop up leaves and dump them into city trucks. Comprising the three crews are 9 to 12 people.

“It’s a very labor-intensive process,” Nemmers said, and having so many people assigned to leaf pickup puts the city behind on other responsibilities, like cleaning up its own leaves at the city’s many parks.

Rather than buy a second vacuum – an option the council briefly considered and rejected earlier this year – the decision was made to drop from two rounds through the city to one.

Residents still have options, however.

They can haul leaves to the city compost site, located west of Fairmont on the gravel road one mile past where Lair Road ends. If you bag leaves first, be sure to empty them from the bags at the compost site and take your trash with you. The site is open 24 hours a day, year round.

Burning leaves is also allowed within city limits, but only with a permit. Permits, available for free at City Hall, help law enforcement keep track of who is burning where, when complaints are called in about smoke.

“Our burning permits had dropped, but I’m sure we’ll see more this year,” Nemmers said.