One of the equipment purchases under consideration for the 2020 Village of DeForest budget is a $217,000 leaf-vac truck.

The vehicle would allow the village to offer curbside pick-up of leaves for its residents. Trustees have worried about where the money would come from to pay for the truck.

“We understand the leaf-vac truck and apparatus is still a question mark,” said Village Administrator Steve Fahlgren, while going through the proposed budget at the Oct. 1 village board meeting. “It’s in here for now.”

Meanwhile, the Village of Windsor is also looking at buying a leaf-vac truck, as it also considers a ban on opening burning, which would impact how residents get rid of yard waste.

At the last DeForest Village Board meeting, Trustee Jeff Miller wondered if the two municipalities could share such a vehicle. DeForest Public Works Project Coordinator Greg Hall detailed the problems with that arrangement.

“Sharing the truck would be very difficult, just because it’s a short season and we would to be using it when they would want to be using it and vice-versa,” said Hall.

That season for curbside leaf pick-up lasts six weeks in the fall and spring. Miller asked if DeForest would be running the truck eight hours a day every day during that time. Director of Public Works Kelli Bialkowski affirmed that would be the case.

“That’s the pattern of the communities we’ve researched,” said Bialkowski. “It’s you start and you’re out there until your done.”

The leaf-vac truck DeForest is thinking of buying would have multiple uses, including hauling dirt. Hall said it would become the village’s main hauler in the winter, carrying snow and cleaning up spills from water main breaks. Hall said that while the truck won’t be set up to plow snow, it does have that capability.

Money for the truck would come from different areas of the village’s budget, with $152,404 coming from the stormwater portion, $43,544 from streets and $21,770 from water.

Miller balked at the price tag at a village board meeting in September, especially since most of the money would be pulled from the stormwater budget.

“I get people have asked for it,” said Miller, at the Sept. 3 village board meeting. “It’s shiny, it’s new, it’s a service, but now we’ve dealt with flooding again this year. So what my concern is, we have a stressed utility that borrowing is going to just add to that, and we have a flooding situation that we have yet to come up with a solution and a cost.”

At the time DeForest Village Administrator Steve Fahlgren told the board that forecasts done last December indicated “that utility is struggling for cash.”

A new rate increase to $78 a year was established Jan. 1. Another hike to $81 is set to go into effect in 2020. Fahlgren explained that these increases were implemented get cash back into the stormwater fund.

“So it’s a very stressed utility, but we’re doing things the right way,” said Fahlgren.

The idea of purchasing a leaf-vac truck was pursued in earnest after the March 19 village board meeting, as public works department officials were directed to explore different options for leaf pick-up with a dual-use truck. Staff shopped different models to determine the best fit, ultimately determining that one from RNOW, Inc. was the best choice.

According to a memo to the board, “It is the least expensive and offers uses outside of the leaf season,” and ordering now would ensure its arrival in time for the fall of 2020. The lead time for receiving the truck is lengthy, according to village officials. Hall said it could take as long as eight to nine months, although the timing may fluctuate. He said the truck’s chassis is the big hold-up.

Bialkowski said that a lot of communities are providing curbside leaf pick-up service.

“I see it as something that’s coming,” said Bialkowski, back on Sept. 3. “It’s up to you to decide if it’s now or later, but I do think it’s coming.”

Having a leaf-vac truck could also benefit the village’s efforts regarding stormwater discharge and preventing phosphorus from leeching into area waters.

“There is research out there that shows a substantial amount of phosphorus coming from leaves, and with the benefits of curbside pickup, I see it as something that’s coming,” said Bialkowski.

It could also impact the village’s compost site. By offering another way of helping residents get rid of their leaves, it could open up Sunday hours for dumping yard waste, which would reduce traffic congestion at the site and improve safety.

Trustee Abigail Lowery said that while she hears about the potential benefits of the leaf-vac truck from residents and appreciates that it would help keep phosphorus out of the Yahara River, she worries about jumps in utility bills. Fahlgren said he is in the process of determining the financial effects of buying the truck on utility rates.

Asked about possible help from grant funding, Bialkowski said village officials did explore the idea, but didn’t find much.

“I doubt it’s going to be more than 50 cents a month over 10 years, but have to run the numbers,” said Fahlgren.

At the Oct. 1 village board meeting, during the budget discussions, Miller noted that if the village did go through with all taxing it was allowed by the state, it could buy the leaf-vac truck and pay for other things, such as another police officer, a splashpad and various road projects for an additional $53 annually in taxes on an average home of $263,000.

Trustee Jane Cahill Wolfgram spoke in favor of purchasing the truck back on Sept. 3. She said it was a service that could help people stay in their homes in DeForest.

“I’m not sure about the financing, I need to think about that,” said Cahill Wolfgram. “But, the service is worth us doing. The whole process of communities that burn has a huge impact climate-wise, it has impacts health-wise. We have a lot of people who can’t do their own leaves, so this is one step closer to helping people stay in their homes.”

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