St. Joseph County Indiana
Curbside Leaf Collection Program
St. Joseph County Leaf Program History & Overview
In the beginning ..........
The St. Joseph County Highway Dept began the Leaf Program in 1993 with just 3 leaf vacs. By 2002 it grew to a 20 vac fleet that was struggling to keep up with program demands due to growing leaf volume, loss of tip sites, rain & snow during collections in November and conflicts with higher priority road requirements including winter preparation to prevent highway deterioration that would cost millions for accelerated road replacement due to winter freeze/thaw damages.
The program required all 75 highway department employees plus up to 45 additional temp workers. The temp workers would last just 24-48 hrs when rain & snow arrived in early November. Hiring was a merry go round of always changing and training temps for cold, dirty and wet curb crew positions. The final year the highway dept performed the program in 2002, the county failed to complete even a two pass program.
Any northern leaf program is always in conflict with one of the primary responsibilities for any highway department, snow plowing and deicing to keep roads clear and safe. One day they are doing leaves and the next day they must change over the entire fleet for snow and ice. Then switch the entire fleet back to leaves after running 24/7 shifts for snow & ice.
Leaf programs require tip sites that require high capacity haulers to transport from the tip sites to licensed compost facilities. Due to a variety of reasons, tip sites turnover frequently and are difficult to maintain and replace. Frequently, excess fleet, labor or time to transport the leaves from those sites in a timely manner is unavailable.
Outsourcing Choking Smoke Control
All of these reasons plus more are why the program was outsourced in 2003. The program was discontinued due to funding shortfalls. Residents resorted to widespread burning from 2005-2012. In the months of October - December St. Joe County had a constant heavy layer of choking smoke each night hanging in the air.
In 2013, resident outcries regarding the choking smoke from spring & fall leaf burning caused the county to restart the program. Unfortunately, the county budget never allowed the program to achieve success from a public perspective as it was only funded at 60% of what was required for a complete program that would satisfy residents.
The county experienced extraordinary growth during the construction boom which caused the program volume to go from 2002 volume of 60,000+/-cyds to a high 2015 volume of over 140,000+cyds. The program more than doubled in size but the county budget allowed for only enough vac crews to collect at the 2002 volume level. When the program restarted, 3 fall passes were budgeted, which were reduced to just two fall passes a short time later to reduce costs even further due to economic restraints.
CV19 Provides the Program Cure
Necessity is the mother of invention. In Jan 2019 it was determined that the program was critical to air quality, health and safety and that the only way to get a successful county-wide program was to commit the required funding over a period that allowed the program long term stability. The county was ready to commit to a 10 year service agreement just as it had committed to 10 years at a time for waste recycling. Then covid hit us.
In Feb 2019, the CV19 Respiratory Pandemic swept the country killing over 585,000 people and governments faced with unexpected CV19 related costs were concerned CV19 would bankrupt local governments. The 10 year plan was suspended but everyone knew that choking smoke could not be allowed anymore or risk further resident health issues related to CV19 and a myriad of other health and respiratory distress concerns.
A Leaf Task force was formed by Commissioner Fleming and met six times. The task force was compiled of a wide variety of govt and resident persons and the current subsidized program was the result. The task force noted that if residents were contributing any money for a subscription, the subsidized program needed to provide guaranteed results that could only be attained through a 4-6 pass program. The vendor had to have the fleet and proven experience performing the work so residents could trust the subscription provider in all kinds of weather. The task force understood that landscapers may have small vacs that work in dry conditions but to guarantee service the vendor would need to have a fleet of municipal vacs that cost over $ 80,000.00 each to purchase new and require heavy CDL driven vehicles to safely tow the vacs. In a cold and snowy fall, residents that decided to try alternatives would return when their contractor did not perform because they did not have the required fleet for the task.
The county would subsidize the program cost so that residents could purchase subscriptions at a much lower cost than open market prices for a Guaranteed and Trusted provider.
Home Advisor online noted the average cost for 2021 is $ 389.00 and has increased 8% +/- annually. Early Bird subsidized subscriptions started at $99.00 and sold out overnight last year. The initial subsidized program was a huge success. Subscribers gave rave reviews. The program cost less than 30% of what the fully funded program would cost and only residents with leaves would participate. Subscribers participated in every collection pass because they were now invested in the program themselves.
Long Term Solution
The St. Joseph County Leaf Program is provided to assist residents in the unincorporated areas of the county dispose of their leaves most efficiently by raking them to their curbs and having them collected by bulk vac. The Program was funded 100% by St. Joseph County until 2020 due to CoVid. In 2020 the county began subsidizing the leaf program so that residents with a high volume of leaves had an affordable alternative to the burn ban, especially in light of CV19 respiratory concerns. In 2020, CoVid respiratory distress became the primary impetus for a new zero tolerance burn ban. The burn amnesty period from the past was eliminated and multiple agencies are now empowered to enforce initial fines for burning of up to $1,000.00 per incident. The County has now renewed the subsidized agreement for three more years with two (3) year renewals thereafter for a total of (9) years.
Affordable Subsidized Subscriptions
Residents must now subscribe to the St. Joseph County curbside collection service or find alternative methods to dispose of their leaves. Subscriptions can be purchased year round but Early Bird rates are the lowest cost way to subscribe. The county has provided specially subsidized Early Bird rates that are steeply discounted from regular active season rates. The biggest resident concern was not enough Early Bird subscriptions to start. Early Bird subscriptions have been doubled now from 1,500 to 3,000 subscriptions available. These rates are limited to the first 3,000 subscribers out of over 33,000 eligible households. See the Subscribe page at www.sjclp.com for details.
Collection Pass Frequency
The resident task force members believed that a high quality, no compromise program should be available to resident subscribers. Some residents thought three passes were enough in the fall without a Spring pass. The desired frequencies was up to 4 in the fall with a Spring pass to collect all late falling leaves. The subscription includes up to Five passes. Although some residents wanted to try to reduce costs by eliminating passes down to 3 total, 99% of subscribers had leaves out for every single pass. Resident participation and usage has dramatically increased for every pass as residents have been required to participate financially through the subsidized subscriptions.
Leaves fall at different times of the season, beginning mid-October with many maples and ornamentals dropping first then oak trees among others that hang on sometimes until Spring. To accommodate all subscribers with different species of trees, the County provides a program that begins the third Monday of October and runs until December 18th each year. The Spring Pass begins on the third Monday in May after frost and snow have subsided. Subscribers receive up to 5 Fall passes as received in the very successful initial season. Weather permitting.
Affordable / High Quality / Long Term Resident Solution
The subsidized program received rave reviews from resident subscribers after the highly successful initial subsidized season. The County is excited to have found a program solution that provides residents the highest quality program possible that remains affordable for both the county and resident subscribers. The Commissioners signed a long term contract to provide residents a consistent annual alternative to burning leaves which has been permanently banned at all times. The county council has noted zero tolerance for burning and enacted enforcement thru multiple agencies of up to $1,000.00 fines for first burn ban offenses.
Subscription Sharing is the practice of one resident subscribing to the leaf collection program and then splitting the subscription cost with any number of other neighbors to reduce their personal cost. This practice is stealing and will not be tolerated.
St Joe County has subsidized subscriptions to maintain a low cost for all subscribers. Sharing a subscription cheats all subscribers that pay their fair share because subscription sharing causes prices to increase for all subscribers when the average collection volume per subscription increases substantially beyond the historical average collected volume per resident address.
They think they are getting away with stealing...... until they find out
What subscription sharers do not realize is that vac crews take digital before and after pictures for every pass and measure and record each pile prior to collection. Autovac collection units also have continuous video recorders that upload automatically to the cloud. The data is processed by a third party that analyzes and compiles collection totals by pass and provides a total cubic yard volume for every subscriber address.
In the end Cheaters NEVER prosper .........
Subscription sharers may cheat and think they got away with it until they receive their new subscription price that charges their address for all the leaves they allowed into their pile from others. They may find their new subsription price prohibitive as they are now being charged for all of their neighbor's leaves.
All subscribers will receive a marker identifying their address as a St Joe County Subsidized Leaf Collection Subscriber. Subscription markers identify subscribers and provide compliant pile location so residents are always in compliance with collection rules. All subscription markers have a serial ID tag that matches the subscription address. Subcription markers will be installed by our Team and if removed at any time must be reinstalled for each collection pass so the driver can easily identify your subscription address. If your subscription marker is taken you must notify the office for a replacement prior to your next collection pass.
Subscription Markers accomplish three goals:
1. Subscriber Verification - Easy Visual subscription address identification for vac crew drivers so subscribers do not miss a pass for any reason.
2. Compliant Pile Zone - Pile Zone location marked so that residents will always be compliant with program rules and will not forfeit any collection passes due to pile location issues.
3. Program Identification - allows neighbors to help "protect your pile" to prevent high volume fees in the future because someone is dumping leaves illegally into subscriber's pile from other neighboring address/es.
Initial Team Member Installation includes marking installation stakes in turf using photodegradeable paint so if at any time the subscription marker is removed, subscriber can see exactly where it needs to be reinstalled to insure pile zone compliance. Subscriber curb will also receive a photodegradeable paint mark showing where the front sign stake is required to be placed no more than 5' from curb. Photodegradeable paint is a temporary paint mark that is affected and degraded by light.
All subscribers will receive email notification prior to the initial installation by a Team Member. All subscription markers will be installed so you can be confident that all your leaves can be piled in conformity with all program rules and never miss a pass.
Leaf piles should be centered on the subscription markers and adhere to the following:
A. Five feet from curb - the front of the Subscription markers will be installed 5' from the curbline. Leaves must be piled in front of the subscription marker at all times to be collected and never extend beyond the front of the subscription marker more than 5' from the curb.
B. Subscription markers will be centered in your pile zone to mark where the pile should begin and extend either direction in an even, long, low pile along your curbline. Ideally piles will be approximately 2' high by no more than 5' wide and separated by at least 15' from property lines so subscription sharing cannot inadvertently occur. If your pile requires greater width than provided between the sign and curbline, use curbline area, not further into the yard, beyond the front of the sign where vac hoses cannot reach.
C. Compliant Location - Subscription markers will be located away from obstacles and property lines in compliance with Program Rules. Review Program rules to ensure compliance and never miss a collection pass due to a non-compliant ple.
The St Joe County Recycling Leaf Collection Public Safety Snow Plan goes into effect when forecast temperatures are below 39 degrees(Wind chill aka "RealFeel") and snow accumulation is in the 15 day forecast. See Accuweather. When snow is in the forecast normal "county clockwise by township scheduling" changes to HOA subscriber percentage priority list below. HOAs with highest percentage of subscribers and volume receive the highest priority.
Vac Trailers/Heavy vehicles cannot be safely driven/towed on roads with frost/ice/snow and vacs loads freeze when collecting leaf piles that have frozen leaves/ice/snow or moisture with freezing temps. Frozen chunks damage vac fans further delaying schedule when conditions permit.
Weather permitting temperatures are above 39 degrees nightly lows to prevent vacs freezing solid from wet leaves that are supercooled by the wind chill created from the vac fans blowing them into the cold steel vacs. The "pitch fork test" is used to check piles from the bottom up to confirm whether piles are frozen to the ground and/or contain frost/ice. Frequently piles appear dry and fluffy until we begin to suck up the pile and it is frozen internally.
Priority is by Groups/HOAs that have the highest percentage of subscribers and then by volume and where conditions allow collection. Very often conditions differ in the same neighborhood based on sun vs shade exposures. When snow plan is in effect, it benefits everyone in your neighborhood to be subscribed, so your priority rises on the snow safety plan priority list below.
All subscriber locations are not listed. Your address will be collected during the time vacs are in the same zone as the neighborhood listed on the Snow Plan Priority List below. See Status Map for your Collection Zone and neighborhoods as reference points.
When the Snow Contingency Plan is in effect all resident leaves must be in the roadway within 5' of the curb or they will not be collected EXCEPT in main arterials and/or where a safety/traffic hazard would exist. Most subdivisions have adequate curbline road width.
During the Public Safety Snow Plan neighborhoods/zones will be marked In Progress 2-5 days prior to vac crews but any new precipitation will delay collections(2 days for every 1 day of precipitation). Leaves that are not at the curbline in the street will not be collected when the snow plan is in effect.
Your Group/HOA may receive HOA advance collection alerts by email/text by subscribing as a Group/HOA. Minimum Group size is defined as a neighborhood with at least 24 subscribers. HOA's subscribing as a whole have no minimum subscriber requirements.
In the event that weather prevents the completion of any pass and program is suspended due to weather for 10 days, the program shall be considered complete when the Spring pass has been completed for all Subscribers. No refunds for any passes incomplete due to weather. Program service will be suspended from Dec 18th to Spring Pass when service cannot be performed for 10 days.
Zoom in on your Township Zone to view current status. All Medium to Very High Volume Subdivisions have a denoting the HOA location.
Click on your HOA pin and you see the following details:
********CRITICAL******** - FIRST MONDAY - NEVER WAIT, IT WILL BE TOO LATE.......... All leaves must be raked to your front of house curbline ONLY on the first Monday before 6am of the scheduled pass. Leaves not at curbline on the first Monday b4 6am of the collection pass will be "passed by" when the vac crews complete your service area. Leaves raked to the Curb after the vacs have passed by will not be collected unless you have a future pass scheduled for your home.
DON'T BAG - Do not bag leaves if you would like them collected by the program. They will not be picked up and we will not return.
CONTAMINATED PILES- ONLY Leaves - NO Branches, compost, prior season leaf piles, dirt, mud, tree limbs, grass clippings, gravel, ice, snow, stones, lumber, pine needles, pet feces and trash mixed with leaves will cause the entire leaf pile to be "passed by" and the Vac crews will not return to that pile. Composted Leaf Piles left on the curb from prior season will not be collected.
Resident curblines must be clear/free of any/all debris other than current season's leaves. Crews document the contaminated pile/s thru digital recording/doorhangers. Scouts note prior season leaf pile addresses so that vac crews skip them until the old composted leaves have been removed. If residents attempt to "hide" last season's leaves under fresh leaves the address will be permanently removed from the collection schedule until SJCR has been notified all old piles/debris have been disposed of and removed. The contact form at www.sjclp.com may be used for notification purposes. NO EXCEPTIONS.
FIVE FEET- All leaves must be within 5' of the front lawn road/curbside without going into the street. During snow contingency leaves must be in the road if you are in a subdivision and leaves in road do not present a safety/traffic hazard.
Any Portion of the pile cannot extend more than 5 feet from the curb whether on the lawn or asphalt/road. All leaves must be on the front lawn address curbside or they will not be collected.
Sidewalks - next to the roadway - Leaves must be raked completely onto the sidewalk for collection. The leaves beyond 5' will not be collected.
Vacs are not allowed to leave the roadway due to potential property damage. The following pictures show violations of the 5' rule and disposal of all of the piles were the responsibility of the residents.
"Rake Rule" - An easy method to measure five feet from the curb/asphalt road is to use your rake length. The length of almost all rakes is 5' and provides an easy to use "measuring stick" already in your hands when raking leaves to the road. Scouts/Vac Crews use a pvc measuring T that is 5' to insure piles are safe to collect.
RAKED PILES - All leaves must be raked into piles immediately along the front curbline to be collected. Vac crews are not responsible for raking your leaves into a pile for curbline collection. The curbline collection program is not a "lawn raking to the curb" program. All piles must be immediately along the front address curbline to be collected. Leaves that are not raked to the frotn address curbline will not be collected. If your leaves get "wind blown", the best practice is to use a tarp to cover pile after raking them to the curbline to keep pile in place. See pictoral examples below of leaves that have not been raked into a pile at curbline and are non-conforming. When any pile is non-conforming the entire pile will be passed by not "missed".
NO BURNING ALLOWED - Smoldering leaves or ashes of any kind are a Fire Hazard and will not be collected at any time and resident will be solely responsible for disposal.
DAMAGE PREVENTION - All leaves must be easily accessible and at least 15' minimum from mailboxes & obstacles to prevent property damage. Leaves must be at least 25' from a parked vehicle to prevent damage to the vehicle. Do not leave trash cans/bags within 15' of leaf piles. Please DO NOT park on or near leaves if you want your pile collected. Crews will not return. In the event you do not have front lawn frontage to allow for the required distances you must rake leaves into the road as far from the obstacle/s as possible and within 5' of the curb.
DITCHES- Keep all leaves out of ditches. Vac hoses do not have adequate reach to collect below road grade and crews do not rake piles out of ditches to the road. Crews are not authorized to leave the roadway at any time due to damage/safety rules. You may rake leaves into the road within 5' of the curbline if required to keep leaves out of the ditch and accessible for collection crews.
DOORHANGERS – Pictures & Doorhangers documenting non-conformance/rule violations are forwarded to the County if you report a miss for a non-conforming pile. If you miss that pass due to a rule violation, you will be solely responsible for disposing of the pile. Doorhanger addresses are emailed to Customer Service with pictures/video of the Policy non-conformance/violation.
The non-conforming leaves may be marked with photo-degradable paint to clearly identify the non-conforming leaves to vac crews and for video recording purposes. Doorhangers/associated pictures may be posted online with date/time stamps. The violations are left to right and first row then second row beginning with too close to a mailbox, leaf pile on a stone bed, grass clippings mixed in pile, behind the house & too far off the alley, over the curb, off the sidewalk too far from the street, over 5' from road.
FENCES/WALLS – Do not put leaves inside, on and/or near fences/walls of any type. Resident will be solely responsible for disposal. If you cannot leave at least 10' space from the fence to the pile please rake leaves into the road within 5' of the curbline for your leaves to be collected. This prevents damage to the fence/wall and/or vacs.
STONE / GRAVEL – Any leaves on Stone/Gravel Beds will not be collected. Leaves must be on grass. If your entire curb area is gravel/stone, your leaves are required to be in the road way or they will not be collected. This is an exception to the normal rule only for residents with 100% stone/gravel curb lines. The following pictures show violations of the Stone/Gravel rule and disposal of all of the piles were the responsibility of the residents.
GRASS & PINE NEEDLES - DO NOT mix grass clippings or pine needles mixed with leaves that come from mowing collection systems at curbside. Grass clippings clog vacs, delay service for other residents and are not allowed at disposal sites due to smell when decomposing. Please be considerate of other residents and do not mix grass with leaves which slows service. There are 2 easy solutions to prevent grass clippings in your leaves. Raise mowing deck or use leaf blowers to collect only leaves.
LAWNS - St. Joe County Recycling & St. Joseph County are not responsible for grass/lawn areas that discolor/die due to leaf accumulation. If resident has a major concern for lawn, resident should dispose of their own leaves within County guidelines. All leaves are required to be on the front lawn curbline only.
EZ way to prevent lawn damage on subdivision roadways (this will not work on main arterial roads) is to rake your leaves into the road within 5' of the curb. This prevents lawn die back and is the easiest surface to remove wet/frozen leaves.
Raking into the roadway is required when leaves get wet/frozen/snow covered. If you do not rake your leaves into the roadway during these conditions, vacs will leave a portion of the bottom of the pile that does not collect and you will be responsible for disposal when they thaw out. We do not return for partial piles due to leaving them in the lawn area after they get wet/frozen.
FRONT LAWN CURB ONLY - Leaf Piles that are not on a residence front lawn within 5' of the curb except as noted herein per the Program Rules, will not be collected. County Program does not include collection on non-resident roadway/shoulders across from resident lawns or wooded lot curb lines without homes. Program will not collect behind homes, in the middle of culdsacs or courts, on islands across from your front/side curb lawn and/or in any area other than the front lawn per rules herein. NO EXCEPTIONS.
NO OUTLET ROADS - Leaf Piles that are not farther than 80' from the end of "No Outlet" roads that do not have cul d sac turnarounds will not be collected. Trucks & Vac rig combined total length do not allow safe collection without backing up the rig on a residential street which is not authorized due to safety considerations.Crews are not authorized to back up the collection rigs for any reason due to safety considerations. In streets where vacs cannot access the leaf pile, the resident must rake the leaf pile to an area that is allowed per program guidelines that safely allows the vac crew to collect without endangering equipment and/or Team.
RESIDENTS ONLY – Program includes ONLY residents per COVERAGE tab & doesn't include Business/Commercial/Government/Non-profit/Parks or any other property. We will provide quotes upon request specific to these property categories.
ROADWAYS – Anytime that leaves are not dry and fluffy they should be raked into the street to preserve your lawn. The exception to this rule is leaves may not be raked onto any streets that are main arterials/roadways that the piles would cause any safety hazard/s.
Thanksgiving is normally a time that if the weather has not yet turned cold and snowy it will change soon. To prepare for the cold weather and protect your lawn you should rake existing piles into the street and keep them as close to the curb as possible and within 5' of the curb.
Wet, frozen, snow covered or compacted piles due to weather conditions are required to be raked into the street within 5' of the curb so that the pile may be collected as cleanly as possible. Vac crews will not return to collect partial piles that are sticking or frozen to the ground.
Cul d'sacs/Courts - Residents cannot rake any leaves into the center of their cul dsac/court. Leaves that are not per the rules herein will not be collected.
Spring piles are all required to be in the roadway for efficient collection and to allow your lawn to begin growing again as soon as possible. By moving your leaf pile to the street you will aerate your lawn surface and promote faster regrowth. By moving the leaf piles to the street you will also remove leaves from your lawn that the vac may not collect.
Gated & Villa Communities – Gated/Villa communities are solely responsible for their own curbside collection. Gated / Villa and maintenance free communities are not included in the program. The following Gated / Villa Communities are not included: Any/all Gated/Villa communities that have lawn care, including but not limited to: Berkshire Villas, Cloverleaf Villas, Country Village, Covington Shores Villas, Farmington Commons, Gumwood Crossing, Knollwood Park Villas, New London Condominiums, Quail Ridge Villas, Sable Ridge Villas, Shamrock Hills, Streamwood Villas, Summer Hill Villas, Tawny Lake Villas, Villas at Lake Blackthorn, Villas at Sandalwood, Wellington Park Villas, Wild Wing Plantation, Woodbridge Condominiums.
WOODED LOTS – All owners with natural wooded lots with less lawn than wooded area will NOT receive collection. It is recommended by the County that composting alternatives be incorporated by the owners.
The St. Joseph County Leaf Collection Program includes ONLY the Unincorporated areas of St. Joseph County and includes ONLY residential dwellings and not their associated vacant lots or nearby (across the street) fields/lots. County addresses have 5 digits in unincorporated areas. Incorporated areas are not included. The following is a list of the Incorporated areas of St. Joseph County that ARE NOT included in the Leaf Collection Program.
South Bend Mishawaka Roseland North Liberty Walkerton Lakeville
New Carlisle Osceola Indian Village
If you would like your incorporated area to enjoy a dependable and efficient leaf collection solution have your municipal leaders contact us now for program options.
St. Joseph County has subsidized the program so residents have an alternative to the Burn Ban
at a very affordable and very Low Cost.
The complete solution includes up to 5 collection passes with disposal included.
Go to the Subscriber tab for details and registration.
NO BURNING - Smoldering leaves or ashes of any kind are a Fire Hazard and will not be collected at any time and resident will be solely responsible for disposal. Subscribers will be terminated without refund and permanently banned from program.
Residents can NO LONGER burn leaves at any time . Residents burning leaves will be cited by County Sheriff or Township Fire Dept and incur fine of up to $1,000.00 per infraction.
This is the front & back of a St. Joseph County Leaf Program Doorhanger.
Further Details - To assist residents in rule compliance to attain maximum collections during passes, Pictures & Doorhangers documenting non-conformance/rule violations are hung on resident doors explaining what is non-conforming and how to change so their leaves can be collected in the future if there are any remaining passes they are eligible to receive. Doorhangers are forwarded to the County so that when residents think they were missed, the County CSR has a record of why they were passed by. Some residents may only receive one pass this year due to County changes. If you miss that pass due to a rule violation, you will be solely responsible for disposing of the pile. Doorhanger addresses are emailed to Customer Service & the County with pictures/video of the Policy non-conformance/violation. The non-conforming leaves may be marked with photo-degradable paint to clearly identify the non-conforming leaves to vac crews and for video recording purposes. Doorhangers/associated pictures are posted online with day/time stamps. The violations are left to right and first row then second row beginning with too close to a mailbox, leaf pile on a stone bed, grass clippings mixed in pile, behind the house & too far off the alley, over the curb, off the sidewalk too far from the street, over 5' from road. Please read the Rules tab for conformance guidelines to insure your leaf pile gets collected. These County rules are the same rules used by the County Highway Department and all municipal leaf collection programs.
Please read the Rules tab for conformance guidelines to insure your leaf pile gets collected. These County rules are the same rules used by the County Highway Department and all municipal leaf collection programs. Once your leaf pile is within guidelines you may register for the next collection pass, if one is available.
St. Joe County Subsidizes Leaf Collection Program and