Brush costs stump city

By Thomas Wilson

   Brush collection costs has left tons of trees waiting for disposal while the city of Elizabethton officials continue to look for ways to cut spending for the upcoming budget year.
   "We have got an enormous amount of brush built up and because we did not grind it for the last two years," said Johann Coetzee, director of the city's waste water treatment plant.
   Tree branches, shrubs and other brush are collected free of charge by the city's public works department. Coetzee estimated the city collected 2,000 tons of brush annually, with disposal costs running about $45,000. The city currently has more than two years of brush piled up near the waste water treatment facility grounds, he added.
   Previously, the city had disposed of the brush by turning it into compost using wastewater sludge. The city gave the compost away free of charge. However, the city's budget status and obvious costs implication have made that process cost prohibitive.
   "Obviously, it is a function of the economy and what kind of advantage we could get to bid it out," Coetzee said. "Right now we are working on putting something together for the next fiscal year. We know we have to dispose of it and we are working to find the most economical way to do it."
   City Council members discussed the cost of brush disposal last week when reviewing the city's budget outlook for the 2004 fiscal year. An issued raised was the collection of large amounts of brush that is cut and compiled by commercial landscaping companies and left for the city street department to pick up.
   "It is suspected but not provable that half or perhaps more is being left by commercial landscaping crews," said Mayor Sam LaPorte. "The question is, what can you do about it ... and the conclusion was, not much." A few sticks and branches were different from large tree limbs or entire trees.
   While creating a large portion of the annual cost, council members did not cut the brush pickup out as a service. LaPorte said the city hoped to enforce pick up a bit more strenuously, indicating commercial landscapers could be required to pay for large amounts of brush generated from landscaping.
   The city's FY 2004 budget is down 11 percent from last year's budget, which was cut by 13 percent.
   "We found cheaper alternatives to dispose of the sludge to tide us over in the mean time," said Coetzee. "Now, we've got to find solutions for what are going to do with brush in the future."