The Oak Park Village Board proposed at their meeting Monday night increasing fees charged for refuse, recycling and yard-waste collection and disposal. The new fees sparked a discussion among trustees about safety concerns during leaf disposal.

In addition to collection costs, the proposed new fees will cover collection and disposal costs, administration costs, leaf pickup, alley improvement and refuse sticker disposal costs. Lakeshore Recycling Services, or LRS, is currently responsible for collection and disposal services for owners of residential property containing 1-5 units. Next year is the second of a five-year contract with LRS, which ends March 31, 2027.

LRS’s collection and disposal service 2023 rates already increased by 5% from 2022 and are expected to increase by another 4.3% in 2024. Raising the refuse rates by 4% will allow the Environmental Services Fund to cover all estimated 2024 costs in refuse, recycling and yard-waste collection and disposal.

Trustee Lucia Robinson said she estimates Oak Park currently pays roughly $30,000 per week for leaf collection during the 6-week program, a number that would go up, given the proposed fee increase. She said she would like to decrease the number of weeks for leaf collection to pull back on increased rates and ensure the safety of residents.

A few weeks ago, a car caught fire on North Kenilworth Avenue after the owner parked it on top of a pile of leaves. The catalytic converter, which was still hot, set the dry leaves on fire. Robinson said she also recently read about two kids who were almost run over by a car while playing in a leaf pile.

“The village does a lot of marketing to try to get people to not pile leaves in the street,” Robinson said. “But that seems largely unsuccessful.”

Public Works Director Rob Sproule said the safety issues are unrelated to the current ordinance, which only reflects the LRS contract update that may determine the new rates and fees residents will pay to the village to support refuse services. The five-year contract would have to be renegotiated to reflect changes for safety.

“I don’t know if we are in a position right now to do that in this timeframe,” he said. “We could engage next year in a discussion about that to prep for 2025.”

The leaf collection program was previously reduced from eight to the current six weeks, Sproule said, so another decrease would not necessarily result in a safer program. If time were reduced at the front end of leaf pickup, there would be substantial leaf pileup from previous weeks. If it were reduced at the end, leaves could be left in front of residences until snowplows start services.

“We would run into a lot of challenges if we were moving to an even shorter window operationally,” he said.

To address Robinson’s concerns, Sproule said the village would need to switch to having residents bag their leaves for collection instead. The price would be relatively the same through LRS, Sproule said, but would require a renegotiation of the existing contract. The earliest renegotiation would be in 2026, he said, for implementation in 2027.

Trustee Susan Buchanan said she would support a renegotiation of the contract, citing environmental considerations, such as encouraging residents to rake leaves into flower beds instead of piling them up for pickup. Trustee Brian Straw said he is interested in moving to a leaf bagging program for both environmental and safety reasons.

“The giant leaf piles that end up at the ends of blocks, particularly during morning commutes, create some safety issues and visibility issues,” Straw said. “We are creating massive visibility issues at intersections at a time when children are walking to school.”

Village President Vicki Scaman said the board will continue this discussion in 2024.

“There is still an opportunity to continue to grow our educational efforts and direct outreach around the issue,” Village Manager Kevin Jackson said.

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