Riverhead Town Board members said they favor allowing residents to put loose leaves at the curb in front of their houses for collection by the town highway department.
The board discussed the issue at Thursday’s work session, but did so with no one from the highway department present.
The highway department has historically picked up loose leaves, but Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson has previously argued that it’s not a highway department function and that the town should pay the highway department to do the work. That, he added would cost at least $250,000 per year. Mr. Woodson has also said no other towns in Suffolk County have their highway departments pick up loose leaves at the curb.
Mr. Woodson, a Democrat who has served 13 years as Riverhead’s highway superintendent, is not seeking reelection this fall.
Mr. Woodson’s deputy, Mike Zaleski, is the Republican candidate for highway superintendent. The Democrats are running William Renten Jr., who is also a highway department employee.
“This has been before the board at least four times,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said last week.
She thinks the town should collect the loose leaves, saying that some senior citizens have expressed concern in light of the Delta variant of COVID-19.
“I personally think that it is our responsibility,” Ms. Aguiar added.
Councilman Ken Rothwell said that COVID had been “a financial burden on all residents, especially our seniors, some of whom are retired and on a limited income.”
He said it also can be dangerous for seniors, facing the hazard of slipping on leaves on sidewalks.
Councilman Tim Hubbard wasn’t at the work session, but said in an interview that he supports loose leaf pickup.
Councilman Frank Beyrodt said, “On some of the logistics, I’d like to make sure that the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed because there’s a lot of moving parts here, and it’s certainly a very important service to the community.”
“I am listening to everything right now, and it was good to get all the information,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said.
Deputy town attorney Anne Marie Prudenti said the town began curbside loose leaf pickup in 1968, confirming that with copies of town minutes and news articles.
Bill Rothaar, the town’s finance administrator, added that leaf pickup has been a highway department function since it was initiated.
The town also currently allows people to have private garbage carters pick up loose leaves as well.
Ms. Prudenti said the town has “maxed out” the disposal on the north side yard on Youngs Avenue, where leaves were being collected.
She said the town is negotiating with Crown Sanitation for use of some of their land, which is adjacent to the town land.
Ms. Prudenti said that Public Employee Relations Board decisions have said a town cannot outsource the collection of loose leaves and must have their own employees do it. Those rulings say leaf pickup is a highway department function, she said.
Mr. Woodson could not immediately be reached for comment.