An Open Letter On Leaves

Dear Neighbors,

Autumn is here, and I have a humble request: Put the rakes away, and mow.

In other words, please consider not having the city pick up and dispose of your leaves this fall, be it through our street collection program or at our self-deposit station.

I ask this because starting this fall we are no longer able to dispose of the leaves we collect at the two nearby locations we had been using. Instead, we are now faced with having to truck most, if not all, the leaves we collect to a landfill in Muskego, almost an hour away.

This is a problem for a number of reasons.

  • First, it is extremely costly for taxpayers. From the labor costs of picking up the leaves and trucking them to the landfill to what the landfill bills us for accepting the leaves to the fuel costs associated with that work, we expect to spend more than $20,000 on leaf collection and disposal this fall, if nothing changes.
  • Second, it makes the whole process much more inefficient. Taking an entire leaf crew off the street for several hours to travel to and from the landfill is an inefficient use of labor and equipment when our crews could be back on the street collecting more leaves.
  • Third, it is bad for the environment. While the landfill does compost the leaves we give them, the extra fuel it takes to make the trip alone makes this bad for our planet. Plus, leaves being left in the street can be washed into area waterways, causing water quality issues. And piles of leaves can, and do, clog sewer drains during rainstorms.

My hope: We can reduce the amount of leaves we pick up this fall and every fall going forward. Even a 10% reduction would make a difference.

So, what I am asking taxpayers? Instead of raking your leaves into the street, please consider mulching them with your lawnmower, like I do. Or composting them. Or saving a few bags of leaves in your garage to use for mulch next spring. Anything that keeps us from taking your leaves on an hour-long truck ride. That’s not good for anyone.

As we do this, I also pledge the city will take a hard look at longer term solutions here – ways we can better offer this service in the years ahead. I expect we will continue to pick up and dispose of homeowners’ leaves. But something has to change.

Thank you for working with us on this issue.


Erik Brooks

Mayor, City of South Milwaukee

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has some good tips for homeowners in dealing with fall yard waste. Check it out here, and click on the “Fall Yard Care” tab. And please note that there are certain requirements around composting in the City of South Milwaukee. You can learn more in Section 8.09(9)(d)a of the Municipal Code online at our city website.


Filed under City Services, South Milwaukee

32 responses to “An Open Letter On Leaves

  1. TS

    what were the two nearby stations? why are they not an option now?

    • Frank Gratke

      Question, why can not the City have it’s own mulch pile?

      Frank “disco” G

      • Frank: This will be something we’ll definitely look at down the road … for 2015 and beyond. Everything will be on the table.

      • Frank Gratke

        The most interesting spot for a mulch pile is east of Rawson woods, west of the Falk Landfill, and southwest from the football field. I am sure it is the most isolated area of our city.

  2. d.mier

    I pay alot of taxes as is.. please call uw ex they’ll take them on forest hill.. i dont have a mulcher mower.. please figure this out.. OMG..

  3. c

    Putting bagged dried leaves in your garage is a fire hazard and may attract rodents, bad idea. How about burning them in the oak creek power plant. They smell great and the filters on the plant would filter out most of the air pollution and cheap energy.

  4. Miles

    Is there a space to set aside to have a city compost pile for our own leaves and people can come and take the compost if they would like it for their guardens?

  5. Melanie

    How about passing an ordinance letting us burn our leaves.

    • TS

      not a great idea. In the more densely populated areas of town that would be a real nuisance for neighbors, not to mention unsafe.

  6. Cory Peterson

    How about all of that land along the lakefront that has just been an environmental mess anyways. That’d be a good spot for composting and I also think it’s a good idea to allow people to come and take the compost as well. I personally mulch my leaves as I don’t have many but for people with bigger yards and more/bigger sized trees or live by a parkway that blows into their yards I don’t think that’s always a very practical option. I think if the city were to stop collecting leaves they’d have to do more pickups of trees as some may just cut their trees down to get rid of them rather than dealing with the mess.

  7. Joe

    I like many other residents pay a great deal in taxes to this city. Please figure this out without another “FEE” or “TAX”. I have two trees in my yard, unfortunately my neighbors around me have a small unkept forest that I’m surrounded with, thus I need to deal with. Maybe offer residents some reduced price on cutting down unneeded trees, which gets back to your urban forestry plans but maybe we don’t need to replant them.

    • Betsy A.

      Respectfully, I would ask, what is an “unneeded tree”? How does a tree qualify as needed or unneeded? Is there a scientific or qualitative ascertainment of trees that you refer to? Thanks.

      • Joe

        Respectfully, take a look around the city and you will see many trees that are unneeded, maybe I should have said well past their prime. People assume that you plant a tree and it lives forever and you don’t need to do anything with them. Those are the trees that can be thinned out and eliminated.


    What’s going to happen when the leaves block up the sewer grates??? Then we have flooding?

    Date: Thu, 2 Oct 2014 04:52:55 +0000 To:

  9. Peggy B.

    Mayor Brooks,
    Will a notice be sent to property owners regarding no leaf pickup, as I have already seen elderly neighbors raking their leaves into the street.

    • Peggy: Unfortunately, no. It’s primarily a digital and social media communication for this year. We wil communicate a new strategy, if there is one, more broadly next year.

      • Betsy A.

        Mayor Brooks, I think this might be a good time for our alderpersons to get the word out to their districts. And, it’s a great educational opp too, don’t you think, to give folks that added info about how to mulch and store their leaves for future or present use.

  10. Glen F.

    As a concerned tax payer of the city, this appears to be more of
    a monetary problem. My suggestion is to ticket speeders on Drexel
    Blvd…there by generating enough revenue to hire a temporary crew
    (No benefits) to address the leaf problem.

  11. Robert

    In a previous reply Peggy B mentioned no leaf pick up. Mayor, can you clarify if this is no leaf pick up or if you are just trying to reduce the amount of leafs to be picked up? Considering the average age of a resident in South Milwaukee, maybe we should look at a different way of communicating besides digitally and via social media. I agree this seems like a monetary problem, but as a tax payer I suggest the city finds a way to handle this, otherwise I would like some more explanations of exactly what my taxes go for. I hope that this budget issue doesn’t over flow into winter, as I can’t imagine what that will do to our little snow plowing of city streets.

    • Robert: To be clear, we will pick up leaves as usual this fall, and likely in the future. We are just trying to discourage residents from using the service for the reasons outlined in the note. And we will look at other ways to communicate this. At this point, we got a late start, so we’re relying mostly on digital and social opportunities and word of mouth. My goal is start spreading the word this fall, and then step up communication efforts for 2015.

  12. Theresa

    I live next to a home that has been abandonded for almost 3 years and inevitably end up managing our leaves and the leaves from that property’s 4 unsightly maples. I have tried to enlist our alderpersons help with this home but they say there is nothing they can do since it is in a banks hands. I will surely place the leaves in the street because I feel this service has been included in our high tax bill and I refuse to let our neighborhood look like a dump as a result of this situation. I am sure many SM residents are dealing with similar situations and cleaning up much more than their own leaf drop. I would urge you to give this much more consideration before discontinuing the service to help preserve this great sense of neighborhood in our community.

    • Theresa: Your concern is absolutely valid, and it’s stories like these that will likely lead us to not stopping this service. I’m just encouraging people who can mulch, etc. to do so. It’s better for the city — we can better use that manpower for other services — and for the environment.

  13. Rick

    My leaves are in the street. For the amount of money I pay in property taxes the City can pick them up.

    • al douglas

      Rick, you could learn from our sm football team and do something positive in your community. It’s not what your community can do for you, it’s what you can do for your community. Go rockets!

  14. Betsy A.

    Love the Rockets plan! Also, for those who can do it themselves, and noting that frost is predicted for the weekend, I found a couple descriptive articles (with video) on leaves: the first one is how to deal with them on the lawn if a mulching mower is available:

    The second has to do with composting them onsite: I personally use both techniques: compost and mow in. Additionally, I make sure that some leaves are left undshredded and under shrubs so that a number of insects may overwinter on them successfully, finding the balance of good guys/bad guys in the insect realm to be a safer method of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) than most chemicals.

  15. William Sweigart

    We always try to mulch as many as we can w our mower, but those big maple trees produce so many leaves and they drop them notoriously late.You can only mulch so many and there are far too many to bag. Here’s what I see happening…trees are going to get cut down and the sap will be on the city’s hands. Another issue is, neither of our neighbors rake their leaves. There are years that half the leaves we put by the curb aren’t even ours. Is the answer to dump them back in the neighbor’s yards? The city needs to figure this out by finding a new location.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s