Montgomery County taxpayers are forking out almost $600,000 for overtime for county workers to vacuum up homeowners' leaves.

That works out to at least $30,000 a day just in overtime for the 14 to 18 days that leaves are collected each fall through the county's leaf collection program.

Raking it in
The Montgomery County leaf vacuum collection is offered to downcounty residents. Here's a look at where taxpayer money is going for fiscal 2012:
Estimated cost: $5.2 million
Estimated revenue: $6.5 million
Money budgeted for overtime: $593,661
Cost per single-family household: $88.91
Expected cubic yards of leaves to be collected: 82,244

Overall, residents are paying about $188,318.57 a day, or $6.5 million this year, through special taxes. The county charges homeowners in the downcounty area $88.91 extra on their property tax bills each year for the service, which last year cost the county $5.2 million.

The county collects leaves twice each fall, with the second vacuuming running now through mid-December.

The extra taxes fund the entire leaf collection program's budget, said Keith Compton, chief of the Division of Highway Services for the county's Department of Transportation.

In fiscal 2011, the county spent $5.3 million on collection and had revenue of $6.5 million from taxes. Compton said excess money does not leave the leaf vacuuming budget and is kept for contingency purposes.

"Folks are very satisfied with it," Compton said. "We get very few complaints with the program. It's popular."

The program's budget has dropped over the past few years as the economy took its toll and the county looked for savings. In fiscal 2011, the county began contracting out some of the work, reducing the overtime budget from $855,000 to $593,661, said Bill Selby, chief of management services in the Department of Transportation.

Steven Suprata, manager of the leaf collection program, said vacuuming the neighborhoods in November and early December is crucial, because if snow falls before the final collection, the cost of removing the snow soars.

The program was created decades ago, when the downcounty neighborhoods of Bethesda, Silver Spring, Wheaton, Kensington and Chevy Chase were by far the most populated areas of the county. The leaf collection area has not been expanded, but neighborhoods in other parts of the county can now ask to be included.

Individual homeowners cannot opt out of the service or request it if it's not already offered to them.

Allen Myers, president of the Maplewood Civic Association, said he hasn't heard complaints from residents in the Bethesda neighborhood.

Though the tax is yet another cost stacked onto multiple fees residents must already pay, having leaves removed is easier than bagging it all and having pickup done on an individual basis, he said. And because individuals can't opt out, the neighborhood will pay the cost.

"What's the alternative?" he asked. "It's something you just have to accept."