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Town Board, highway superintendent reach agreement on loose leaf pickup

Riverhead’s loose leaves will be collected after all. 

The Town Board and Highway Superintendent Mike Zaleski have agreed to a plan that will allow the highway department to collect loose leaves from the roadside for the remainder of 2022 and the entirety of 2023. 

The Town Board will pay for the leaf pickup through the general fund, rather than the highway department’s budget.

The debate over who should pay for leaf pickup goes back several years, as former highway superintendent George Woodson was involved in the same debate with the Town Board when he was in office. 

The two sides had agreed to seek an opinion from the state Attorney General’s office, which in turn contacted the state comptroller’s office. 

The comptroller’s office found a 1976 case involving Brookhaven Town that stated: “A town board may direct the highway department to collect on a regular basis leaves and brush placed on a town highway right of way by property owners, with the highway department’s expenses chargeable not to the highway fund, but to the general fund appropriation for refuse collection.”

The comptroller’s opinion states that the Riverhead Town Board “shall create general fund budget line(s) for expenses related to loose leaf pickup in the amount of $219,018.88 for the year 2022.” That was the number the town and Mr. Zaleski agreed was the annual cost of leaf pickup.

Problem solved? Not exactly. 

The Town Board said the $219,018 payment doesn’t begin until 2023, and Mr. Zaleski sought to use the funds during the remainder of 2022. 

An agreement reached before Tuesday’s Town Board meeting finally solved the dispute by transferring $194,100 from the general fund to the highway fund to cover the cost of leaf pickup for the rest of 2022.

The 2023 budget adopted this week by the Town Board for 2023 already includes funding for leaf pickup.

“They finally agreed to pay me the amount, so we can do leaf pickup in 2022,” Mr. Zaleski said Wednesday. 

“I’m allowing them to shave off the $25,000 that’s in the only leaf line in my budget,”he said. “I’m glad they finally came together and decided to do this. Now we can all just move on.” 

The $25,000 was in the department’s budget for paper leaf collection bags.

“I’m happy the Town Board is continuing this courtesy for the residents,” Mr. Zaleski said. “As far as my feelings? I’ve got leaves to pick up.”