Southampton candidates debate over leaf pickup

BARBARALLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Rose Sanders of Jamesport picks up leaves in front of her home. In Southampton Town, there’s a debate now over whether the biodegradable paper bags should be used.

Leaves. Should they be bagged or left loose on the curb for the town to pick up?

That’s a debate the two candidates for Southampton Town highway superintendent got into at a recent meeting of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.

Last year, Southampton Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor announced that residents would be required to put their leaves in biodegradable paper bags and leave them on the curb for the town to pick up. In years past, Southampton Town residents were allowed to dump loose leaves curbside for town pickup.

Mr. Gregor’s plan never came to fruition because of Hurricane Sandy, which, in addition to leaves, left a lot of other debris on town roadways.

Mr. Gregor, who is the Democratic Party candidate for re-election, said he will again require residents to use biodegradable paper bags for their leaves, and not allow them to put loose leaves curbside — barring any major storms.

His Republican opponent in this year’s elections, David Betts, feels differently.

“My suggestion would be to go back to the way it was and get the leaves picked up,” Mr. Betts said at the civic meeting at the Flanders Community Center. He also suggested the town consider contracting with a private company to pick the leaves up, “so we can get them done quickly.”

Mr. Gregor said he had tried to contract out the leaf pickup, but ran into opposition from the Southampton Town Board.

He said he had sought bids from private companies to do the work two years ago, but the Town Board refused to award a contract even though the lowest bid was much lower than what it costs the town to do the work. He also said the Town Board wouldn’t let him hire part-time employees, because the employee contract limits the number of part-timers the highway department can hire to three, and the board would not amend the contract.

“In the past, the leaves stay on the road, they get plowed all over the place,” Mr. Gregor said, adding that the leaves don’t fall until Thanksgiving and need to be picked up before the end of the year because that’s usually when the first snow falls.

“So without extra help, I needed to come up with something to do it in five weeks.”

The program he came up with involves the use of paper bags, as well as discontinuing loose-leaf pickup. Mr. Gregor said his department is giving away free biodegradable paper bags this year.

The program will also allow landscapers to dispose of leaves at the town transfer stations if they present a voucher from the property owner whose leaves they are dumping, Mr. Gregor said. In addition, if someone is 73 years old or older, or if they have a disability that prevents them from bagging the leaves, the town will allow them to place the loose leaves at the curb.

Mr. Gregor says the biggest cost in leaf disposal comes from the town, which makes its own highway department pay to dispose of leaves at the town’s landfill.

Mr. Betts currently heads the Southampton Town Code Enforcement department and is a retired Southampton Village police lieutenant, and former union president.

In making his overall pitch to civic members in Flanders, Mr. Betts touted his skills as an administrator who has been on both the management and labor side of union contract negotiations. He also said he has experience in obtaining grants.

“The job is an administrator, that’s what you need,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for 30 years.”

Mr. Gregor argued that Mr. Betts’ experience is not relevant to the highway superintendent job.

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