Proposal for privatized leaf collection sent back to committee
• News and notes from the June 24 Winnebago County Board meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
Members of the Winnebago County Board voted 14-11 June 24 to send an ordinance that would amend the county code regarding open burning back to the Public Works Committee for further discussion. The modification would mean the county would no longer directly provide leaf pickup services to unincorporated areas within a mile of municipal borders, where leaf burning has been banned. Instead, the county would essentially point the affected residents in the direction of a private contractor once per year to perform the leaf-vacuuming service.
Many board members, however, feel such a move would negate a promise made to those residents when the burning ban went into effect.
“It’s a service that the county committed to years ago when they made a particular vote on a particular issue, and I’d simply like us to honor that commitment,” said Paul Gorski (D-5), who seconded a motion by Mel Paris (D-8) to send the matter back to committee.
“We offered to give them some type of service, and I think we should keep our word,” agreed Dorothy Redd (D-6). “Now, all of a sudden, we’re asking to pull out and leave the people high and dry, and I don’t think this is right.”
Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) noted, however, that nothing is being taken away from anyone.
“We’re going to continue doing it,” he noted. “We’re just going to have private people do it instead. That’s all.”
Frank Gambino (R-14) argued the county simply can’t afford to do the work itself.
“I think what we are offering—it’s a service that, really, the county doesn’t need to be involved with. It’s not what government’s for,” he asserted. “It’s also a service that we’re losing money on at a time when we can’t afford to do this anymore. But I also believe our offer to help them contract with a private service that would help them out is a viable option. It’s an excellent option.”
When the program began in 2005, users were charged $35 per pickup. The amount increased by $5 each of the following two years, and was raised to $65 in 2008. Despite the fee increases, the program continually operates at a loss.
According to County Highway Engineer Joe Vanderwerff: “The number of users has gone down from 304 users, or residents, in 2005 to a low of 71 in ’08. We had, I think, 82 last year. And we’ve lost, from a low of $11,201.79 in ’08, to a high of $51,543.21 in ’05.”
Dave Tassoni (D-7) explained: “I’ve attended a couple of different neighborhood meetings as of lately, since the leaf issue came up, and I spoke with people on both sides of the leaf issue. And the people that are against leaf-burning have admitted that they feel responsible for subsidizing the leaf-pickup for those who are not entitled to burn.”
Tassoni, who would prefer selling burning permits, said he couldn’t support the amendment as written, and that the matter warrants additional debate at the committee level.
The motion to refer the ordinance back to committee prevailed, with Gambino, Angie Goral (D-7), Bob Hastings (D-13), Karen Hoffman (D-11), Wendy Owano (R-5), Tom Owens (R-1), Dianne Parvin (R-4), Rick Pollack (R-13), Lynne Strathman (R-1), John F. Sweeney (R-14) and Fred Wescott (R-9) casting the dissenting votes.
The Public Works Committee voted 5-1 against the proposed amendment during its June 1 meeting.
• Authorizing River Bluff Nursing Home administrator to terminate the home’s longstanding relationship with Nihan & Martin for pharmacy services, and to enter into a new agreement for the services with Oregon Healthcare Pharmacy Services, Inc. The county first contracted with Nihan & Martin in 1998. Although the one-year contract with five one-year renewal options had expired, the relationship continued without a new contract being formalized. This year, Nihan & Martin’s pharmacy in Rockford was taken over by Omnicare of Northern Illinois, of Des Plaines, which Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Angie Goral (D-7) said has not provided good service. The transition, which will save the county about $7,000 plus staff time, will be made to Oregon Healthcare Pharmacy Services Sept. 1.
• Authorizing the River Bluff Nursing Home administrator to enter into hospice service contracts with Hospice Care of America and OSF Hospice.
• Authorizing a change order for an additional $103,384.46 to William Charles Construction Company for work related to the Bell School Road project.
• Waiving building fees for the Harlem Consolidated School District.
Kyle Logan (R-3), Kay Mullins (R-8) and Steve Schultz (R-2) were absent.
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