Justin Withers and Rob Steiger

Alderman Rob Steiger and Alderman Justin Withers discuss proposed restrictions on the burning of leaves in Paxton during last week's meeting of the city council's public works committee.

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PAXTON — After recently rescinding a citywide ban on the burning of leaves that had been in effect for more than a year, the Paxton City Council will consider Tuesday night whether to put some restrictions on leaf burning back in place.

While prohibiting leaf burning entirely is not being considered, aldermen will discuss a proposal to restrict leaf burning to daylight hours only.

Also, prohibiting leaf burning on specific holidays — including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day and Labor Day — will be considered.

“I’m just trying to hit the ones where people gather (outside),” said Alderman Rob Steiger, who proposed the restrictions.

Steiger also suggested the council consider imposing fines for the burning or depositing of leaves on streets and curbs.

“Burning on the street ought to be a $500 fine,” Steiger said.

The council’s public works committee voted 2-1 on Oct. 29 to advance the proposal to the full council for its consideration during its Nov. 12 meeting. Residents are encouraged to attend the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, to provide input prior to the vote.

During its regular meeting in October, the council voted 7-1 to rescind the leaf-burning ban it had implemented in summer 2018. The decision to lift the ban was prompted by concerns expressed by residents and aldermen alike over difficulties in disposing of their leaves.

With no leaf-removal service provided by the city, some residents had been trying to mulch their leaves as an alternative to burning them, while others had been taking their leaves out of town to burn. Then there were others who were paying a leaf-removal company to pick up their leaves, with one resident saying he spent $300 to do so last fall.

During last week’s committee meeting, Steiger, the committee’s chairman, said he believed there should be some restrictions on leaf burning. It was noted that some residents experience health issues that can be worsened due to exposure to the smoke caused by leaf burning.

“To (allow residents to) burn non-stop, I don’t like that idea,” said Alderman Eric Evans, a member of the committee. “I mean, there’s a lot of people it affects, and it’s not only the kids in town — there’s a lot of elderly people and middle-aged adults it bothers.”

Resident Dennis Fairchild said he suffers from “some pretty serious health problems” and often experiences chest pain or shortness of breath when neighbors burn leaves. Sometimes, the problems force him to leave his home, he said.

Fairchild, who was among 10 residents in attendance at the committee meeting, suggested allowing leaf burning during daylight hours only.

“I’ll gladly leave town during the day if I need to, but I’d like to sleep in my own house,” Fairchild said.

Alderman Deane Geiken, who is not a member of the committee but was in attendance, noted that an online survey that the Ford County Record conducted last month asking residents for their opinions on leaf burning indicated that a large majority were in favor of allowing leaf burning with either no restrictions or some restrictions. Only 43 of the 214 people who participated in the poll said they were against allowing leaf burning entirely.

Evans acknowledged that no decision the council makes on the leaf-burning topic will receive unanimous consensus amongst the public.

“I think it’s a ‘hell if you do, hell if you don’t’ (situation),” Evans said. “I mean, you’re not going to make everybody happy.”

Both Evans and Steiger voiced support for restricting leaf burning to daylight hours only and to prohibit it on certain holidays. Alderman Justin Withers, the third member of the committee, said he was OK with restricting leaf burning to daylight hours only but was against the idea of banning leaf burning on holidays.

The committee earlier discussed the possibility of allowing leaf burning only on certain days of the week or month. However, aldermen said they were concerned that such a restriction would only burden the police department in having to enforce it.

“It would just cause a lot of busy work for the chief and the police department,” Withers said.

Also discussed was the possibility of buying leaf-removal equipment and having city workers go around town and pick up leaves using it. However, aldermen agreed that the cost would be burdensome.

The cost for a new leaf vacuum is around $65,000, Mayor Bill Ingold said. Also, operating the equipment would require four of the city’s public works department employees, Steiger noted.

“The option of picking up leaves and getting rid of them is well in excess of six figures,” Steiger said, “and you’d be taking (city workers) who would not be getting other work done.”