The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council postponed a decision Tuesday, Oct. 6 on hiring contractors to catch up on easement mowing after a discussion on using town staff to do the work.
Town Manager Jamie Titcomb said there had been much discussion about cleaning up overgrowth in the canals, around street signs and easements where town staff had fallen behind.
“I met with our public works department, and we decided that due to a number of factors — personnel, equipment down, etcetera — that the best way we could get that caught up is I authorized a short-term, temporary mowing contract with one of our existing mowing companies to lend additional personnel, and they brought their own equipment for a stated price.”
He said the contractor has been at work in some areas at a price not to exceed $8,400, and the appearance of those areas has improved.
“There has been discussion as well with this council going forward as to whether we would like to bid out mowing services for the purpose of taking care of large segments of the town to make sure that we keep up with the aesthetic issues,” Titcomb said.
He said that based on three bids from contractors with their own equipment, the price would be comparable to using in-house staff.
Public Works Director Larry Peters said the cost has been between $1,500 and $2,000 a day for contractor mowing at $35 per man hour, depending on the number of personnel on hand, and the town had spent about $3,400 of the $8,400 allotted.
Councilwoman Laura Danowski said her problem with hiring contractors was that in June 2018, town residents voted to create a public works department.
“Somehow, we have got to do better to fund it, to put these boots on the ground with tools,” Danowski said. “I keep scratching my head… We have 14 town employees and 75 percent of our budget goes to town staff, contract employees and the sheriff. The top of my head pops off when I realize that we are having to go out for these big-number contracts.”
Danowski suggested that town staff put together a plan for the next six months on how to manage town maintenance better. “If it means hiring three more people, OK,” she said. “Granted, residents are making comments on Facebook about weeds and overgrowth and things that need to be mowed. They’re right. We’ve got to do something.”
Titcomb said the town has at least three budgeted openings now, two of which are in public works. The funds not being paid to employees would offset the temporary cost of hiring contractors.
“The challenge for Mr. Peters is to balance the best bang for the buck between what he can do with his own employees and equipment and what he might need with supplemental support to get it done on a prescribed timeline,” he said.
Vice Mayor Marge Herzog said she liked the look of the canals cleaned up by the contractors.
“If we need to hire, and it’s balancing out, then that’s the way to go,” Herzog said.
Councilman Robert Shorr said that he had not seen town staff using the three weed eaters on hand but agreed that summer was when the town might need supplemental services.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia agreed that bids should be put out for contractors, but felt they should be better vetted, adding that town staff should be more proactive in taking care of maintenance issues.
After more discussion, the council decided to have staff bring back to the next meeting a proposal for a combination of town staff and contractors for landscaping maintenance.