The Portland Bureau of Transportation has a message for the multitudes of Portlanders pissed off about this year's first-ever fee for leaf pickup: We got it. We hear you. Loud and clear. We're really sorry. We'll say something sooner next year.

After sustained outcry by surprised and confused residents, the bureau this morning announced it had "simplified" its opt-out program for the leaf removal fee. The fee was instituted by the city council in May, a budget compromise that reversed a longstanding city practice of providing the service for free. But only avid budget-watchers and political junkies apparently were paying attention. Everyone else freaked out when the notices started landing in mailboxes a couple of weeks ago, wondering who was supposed to pay, how much and when.

"It's hard to say that every resident should be engaged in the city' budget process and should be aware of all the details inside the budget documents," said Cheryl Kuck, a spokeswoman for the bureau. "It's our responsibility to provide adequate notification when we're asking citizens to do something different."

But the opt-out process raises questions about whether the city will see all of the $800,000 it's banking on from the leaf fees. Residents in Portland's 28 leaf-removal districts, asked to chip in $15-$65, are all kind of on the honor system.

Customers can qualify for an exemption to the leaf removal fee if they declare that they removed the street leaves themselves, they paid someone else for the service, or they have no street trees near their property and the trees in their yard do not drop leaves in or near the street. Customers must complete an application form and affidavit that the information they provide is true. No additional receipts or photographs will be necessary.

"We understand that this year we might not reach our target," Kuck says. "But in all fairness, we needed to simplify the requirements."

Update: Here's a link to the opt-out form.