Steamboat Springs residents and businesses will see costlier bills from their landscape contractors this spring because of a city policy shift.
The city will no longer dispose of scoria and spring debris if a private contractor is employed to provide spring clean-up services. Street/Fleet Superintendent Doug Marsh said the city still will provide the service for homeowners who do not use a commercial service and rake scoria and small branches from their yards onto street shoulders themselves for pick-up in April. Scoria is the volcanic rock laid on streets in the winter to provide friction on icy roads.
Marsh said the decision was made last year to reduce the city's landfill fees, before the economic downturn forced the city to make additional budget cuts. Marsh said for-profit businesses should not benefit from the city's free service. He said, by way of comparison, that the city would not dispose of a tree someone paid a contractor to cut down.
Landscape professionals said Wednesday that they would pass the additional cost of removing and disposing scoria and debris on to their customers.
"We've got to allocate the cost to the customer," said Brad Miller, of Miller's Landscape Design & Lawn Care. "It's time-consuming for sure. : It's just more work for me. It doesn't bother me, but it will bother a lot of my customers."
T.J. Thrasher, general manager of Windemere Landscape & Garden Center, said he understands the city's decision and is surprised that it provided the free service for as long as it did. Thrasher said that the additional cost of removal and disposal would be minimal for most customers.
"It's not going to be a substantial portion of the spring clean-up bill," Thrasher said.
Although Windemere is passing on the additional cost, Thrasher said he does worry that the city's decision will give customers a reason to do the work themselves, a move Thrasher said many already may be considering given the economic climate.
Miller said that there could be an argument that since the city lays the scoria, it should be responsible for picking it up.
"There's an argument both ways," Miller said. "As a homeowner I would be upset, but as a businessman, if that's their policy, that's their policy."
Marsh noted that the city owns the right-of-way for 10 to 15 feet on both sides of city streets, but it does not mow people's lawns or clear their driveways and sidewalks of snow.
"If the city was to rake everybody's lawn, I guess we'd have about 5,000 employees," Marsh said.
Miller said the extra work would add about a week to his spring clean-up schedule that also includes mulching and irrigation, and it could present difficulties when it comes time to do later-season work.
"You have to get it all done before the weekly maintenance of just growth," Miller said.