Recipe for a rotting mess

Autumn fools: Claiming it can save $500,000, city ends traditional curbside vacuuming of leaves.

September 28, 2001

BALTIMORE'S abrupt decision to end its traditional curbside leaf vacuuming service comes much too late in the season. The likely result: A nasty, rotting mess that will clog storm drains and negate any savings the city had hoped for.

City public works officials, who last year collected 15,000 tons of leaves, justify their decision as a way to save $500,000.

"It was just a very inefficient way to operate," spokesman Kurt Kocher said of the vacuuming operation, which required much overtime and callbacks late in the season.

Moreover, he explained, "it was basically unfair" because the vacuuming service benefited only residents with trees, who are presumed to be well-off.


From now on, residents wanting to have leaves removed must bag them for hauling on the second collection day of the week. Or they can take the bags to seven drop-off centers around the city.

Why wasn't this decision made earlier so that the city and community organizations would have had enough time to alert residents to the change?

With such a late announcement, many residents, accustomed to more than 50 years of city-provided curbside leaf vacuuming, will keep on raking leaves into the gutters. Gradually, passing cars will transform the leaves into a rotting goo that will clog storm drains.

Is this any way to save money?

A cursory Internet search shows that most of the big cities Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley views as examples of efficiency, including Philadelphia, collect bagged leaves but also use vacuuming in areas with a heavy concentration of leaves.

Ending this service is as harmful as Baltimore's earlier decision to end blue-bag recycling, which was later rescinded: Meaningful savings are unlikely, but a trashier city is a foregone conclusion.

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