CALDWELL, NJ – For several months, the Caldwell Borough Council has faced requests from the Caldwell Environmental Commission to pass a resolution requiring residents to collect their own leaves and place them in bio-degradable bags at the curb—replacing the current practice of relying on the Caldwell Department of Public Works for loose-leaf removal from the streets.
Although the resolution that would have amended the municipal code’s current requirement was finally placed on the agenda for the council’s consideration on Tuesday, the council was divided on the issue. Mayor John Kelley ultimately decided to table the resolution for the time being.
“This year, the borough has seen the largest tax increase in a decade,” said Councilman Thomas O’Donnell, who was not supportive of the resolution. “Some homeowners need to fill 125 bags of leaves and can afford a landscaper. Others would have to do it on their own.
“The residents have seen a tax increase by the removal of the SALT entitlement, a raise in county taxes, municipal taxes, board of education taxes, kindergarten tax…to remove this service would be unconscionable.”
Councilman Pasquale Capozzoli also was not supportive of the resolution, noting that “raising taxes and taking away services is not something [he] would support.”
“This has me struggling,” said Councilwoman Christine Schmidt. “As a democrat, I am concerned about economics. If you have a landscaper, there is not a problem; but without a landscaper, residents are literally left holding the bag. It is back-breaking work; and for a working couple, it is a big burden to put on taxpayers—especially with a tax increase this year.”
Schmidt added that she would “like to see how much it costs to pick up bags versus the current practice.” She also felt that for safety purposes, the borough should be educating families about why they should not allow children to play in piles of leaves.
“Until we get this sorted out, let’s do this right and consider this for next year,” she said.
On the other hand, Councilman Jonathan Lace confirmed his long-standing position in support of the Environmental Commission’s advocacy of this resolution.
“Public safety is the first priority of government,” said Lace. “There is direct evidence that loose leaves are less safe than bagged leaves—especially on streets with no sidewalks.”
Former Councilman Richard Hauser, who attended the meeting, commented that the prior administration did review this request, but ultimately concluded that there would be no cost savings to changing the current practice.
In announcing his decision to table the resolution, Kelley stated that “multiple residents raised their support and others their opposition” and that this is “a very challenging issue for Caldwell.”
“To remove this service from the residents would be a major decision,” said Kelley. “There is a definite cost/burden to taxpayers, and it correlates with the size of their lawn and number of trees. Those who would not feel the impact are neutral, or else support bagging; but there are many of our residents who would definitely be impacted.
“This is not the year to make that hard decision, and it's primarily due to the fact that we have raised the municipal tax. We need to allow for residents to voice their support or opposition and therefore the reason I tabled the resolution.”
Kelley concluded that residents should expect future discussions on this topic, but that he does not foresee the council coming to a decision in 2019.