City considers saving money in grass cutting

Published 11:55 pm Tuesday, June 16, 2009

NATCHEZ — If the city uses Alderman Dan Dillard’s budget cutting suggestion, it could result in a quarter of a million dollars in savings and multiple layoffs.

Dillard said the recreation department annually spends an exorbitant amount of money cutting grass — $160,000 is spent on cutting the five parks and $200,000 cutting the 10 ball fields that fall under the recreation department.

He said private landscaping companies are competitive and offer low prices, and he said he’s received an estimate as low as $30,000 for cutting the five parks.

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Dillard said he estimates the city could bid out the cutting of the ball fields at $40,000 annually.

If the parks and fields were cut by a private contractor, the city could save $290,000 a year.

He said there are many unseen expenses in park and field maintenance, not just the labor itself but gas, equipment and mower maintenance.

“It’s not that the recreation department is doing such a poor job,” Dillard said. “It’s just very inefficient.”

He said the recreation department is overwhelmed by grass cutting expenditures.

“We’re inundated with it. The recreation department is burdened with it,” Dillard said.

Of course with the plan would come layoffs.

“We’re going to have to lay a few off to benefit,” he said. “I think it’s a smart way, a more efficient way, to provide services to the public with programs — ways that the recreation department should.”

He said the savings could be funneled into the golf course and tennis courts to beef up recreation programs.

“It’s a significant amount that can’t be overlooked. It wouldn’t diminish your services. It would, in fact, improve them.”

Dillard lobbied his suggestion during the aldermen’s work session Tuesday afternoon, and Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said was concerned about employees who would be close to retirement.

She requested a list of all of the grass-cutting employees and how long they have been employed. If they are close to retirement, she said, instead of laying them off the city could provide them with the opportunity to just retire.

Other aldermen had suggestions to save money, most of which would be enacted in the upcoming 2009-2010 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Mayor Jake Middleton suggested that in the next fiscal year, city employees pay $25 a month toward their insurance, for a total annual savings of $82,000.

Mathis suggested freezing the step pay program within the city, where employees receive small raises each year they are employed.

City Clerk Donnie Holloway said freezing the program for a year would save $40,000.

Alderman Mark Fortenbery suggested removing the cameras that film the board’s twice monthly meetings, a measure that was already attempted earlier this year.

The mayor removed the cameras, which with filming, editing and airing bill the city approximately $400 to $500 a month, but the board voted them back in.

Fortenbery also suggested lowering the aldermen salary by a percentage, though he did not specify.

Five aldermen make $22,299.84 a year. Mathis, because she is a part of the Public Employees Retirement System, makes $19,086.24 a year.

Alderman Bob Pollard suggested ending the city’s leasing of a portion of the former Marketplace Café in conjunction with Alcorn State University’s farmer’s market.

The city pays $1,200 a month to lease the building for that purpose, and though the lease ends in October of this year, Pollard said the city could still save a few dollars in these remaining months.

No official decisions were made, and the board met in executive session to discuss contracts and personnel.