Costs for contractors too prohibitive
By Bert Lehman
The city of Clintonville will not be hiring private contractors to mow grass on city properties.
The topic was researched as a possible way to save money, but when it was discussed at a Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 12 the committee was informed the costs of hiring private contractors would present problems for the city.
The city departments that currently mow grass include Parks and Recreation, Public Works and Clintonville Utilities. Between those three departments a total 2,600 hours per year is spent mowing grass, said Clintonville City Administrator Chuck Kell.
Kell added that the total number of hours spent mowing grass also depends on the weather.
The city contacted a number of private mowing services, both locally and outside of Clintonville.
“Local guys quoted a price of $35 an hour for man and equipment,” Kell said.
Kell said the larger contractors in Green Bay and Appleton were in the $45 per hour range.
It was noted by Kell that it may take private contractors longer to mow because most have smaller lawn mowing equipment than what the city currently has.
“Their hours could actually go up unless they invested in new equipment and I’m not sure they’d be willing to do that without a long term contract,” Kell said.
If the city would privatize all its grass mowing obligations, it would require the city to commit to $91,000-$117,000 in contracted costs, Kell said.
Looking at just the Parks and Recreation Department, Kell said Justin McAuly, Parks and Recreation director, said his department currently spends about $25,000 per year in labor mowing city property his department is responsible for. If the city went with a private contractor it would cost $70,000 per year.
Kell acknowledged that one of the benefits of contracting the service out would mean the city wouldn’t have to purchase new grass mowing equipment.
“But that’s the kind of difference you’re going to see in the operational costs,” Kell said.
In addition to an increase in labor costs if the city hired a private contractor, the cost comes out of the city’s operational budget, which is already tight if the city wants to receive its expenditure restraint money of almost $90,000.
It will be a challenge to take money in the Capital Improvement Plan for new mowers, and transfer it into the operational budget, Kell said.
“It’s going to be a significant new expense on top of what we currently pay for our current staff and summer help,” Kell said. “I think that’s the biggest challenge with this.”
Kell said the city also needs to factor in the fact that in 2017 city departments are asking for $188,000 worth of mowing equipment.
“But the way they maintain it and use it that should last 10 years or longer,” Kell said. “It’s an expense at one time and in one year but you are amortizing it over a period of years. It’s nowhere in the neighborhood of a $75,000 increase in operation costs per year to the budget.”
Kell did admit that at times during the mowing season, in order to keep up, full-time staff has to mow grass on occasions.
“We have fairly expensive staff sometimes operating the lawn mowers,” Kell said. “That’s maybe not the most efficient operation we can have. We’d be better off if we could hire enough summer help that our full-time staff wouldn’t have to get on the mowers. But that’s going to be a new cost over and above what we currently have if we try to do that.”
Kell said he talked to city staff about creating a centralized department, but the response was it wasn’t possible with the current staffing the city has.
“I think if we were to do a centralized department, that’s where we would really try to maximize the use of mower paid staff and maybe try to find some summer help that are willing to work longer hours and earlier in the year,” Kell said.
Kell added, “I think they all feel they currently cooperate with each other and they help each other out if equipment is down. They loan from one department to the next so the job gets down.”
Committee member Mike Hankins said that based on this information it would be a bad idea for the city to hire private contractors to do the city’s grass mowing.
Committee Chairman Mark Doornink said the committee needed to explore the privatization option, but he agreed it wouldn’t be wise for the city to do it.
Doornink added that he thinks there could be better efficiencies between the departments that mow.
“I’ll tell you this, internally we have guys passing each other on the streets with trailers and mowers and they’re both heading to the same place sometimes,” Kell said.
He added that he thought the departments could come up with plans to help each other mow that would cut down on travel time and be more efficient for the city.
Clintonville Mayor Lois Bressette added that the city could do landscaping in some areas in a way that would require less mowing in the future.
“There has to be a way we can cut down on the lawn mowing,” Bressette said.
She added, “I think our taxpayers deserve us to look at every option possible to save money, especially when we’re looking at what we’re paying a month mowing.”
McAuly told the committee that city departments haven’t done a good job of replacing equipment in a timely manner. This has led to multiple new mowers needed in one year by different departments.
Committee member Jim Supanich said the city needs to develop a fleet management program. He added that the cost of maintenance also needs to be considered.
Hankins said he agrees with developing a fleet management program, but if the council decided to go that route, it has to back that up in the future.