Vidalia considers grass cutting options

Published 12:02 am Saturday, October 14, 2017

VIDALIA — Vidalia aldermen discussed a grass cutting plan Tuesday for the town, as inmate labor is expected to become even more unreliable in the future.

Louisiana plans to release 15,000 non-violent inmates in November. Mayor Buz Craft said the state is releasing the type of people who go on work crews.

“The only people they will have available are the type of people you might not want on the streets,” Craft said jokingly.

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Craft said even with the inmate crews, it is costing the town to have supervisors watch the inmate work crews. To top that off, the inmates are typically not trained in running the equipment and also do not care if they break the equipment, he said.

“We are not getting much in production,” Craft said.

Craft said the town should take this as a sign to start investigating whether to hire new employees or potentially seek bids from private companies. Craft said he would get Street and Sanitation Department Superintendent Lee Staggs to identify all the areas the town needs to cut.

“We need to explore all options, and I am just putting this out for discussion so people are aware of it,” Craft said. “In November, we will not be getting as many prisoners, if any.”

Vidalia Police Department’s Cedric Moore said even when inmate crews are full, which is not always the case, the production is not as good as it would be if the town hired even part-time grass cutters.

“We will go to pick them up in the morning and they will be foaming at the mouth because they are already high,” Moore said.

Moore said even with non-violent offenders he has found knives hidden in seats. Plus many will call family and have them hide contraband in the field they would be cutting.

“People will drop dope or cell phones in baby diapers,” Moore said. “Picking up prisoners (for labor) is not easy like people think.”

Moore said the inmates do not care if they break the equipment.

“You can hold me accountable, but the five inmates couldn’t care less,” Moore said. “And you can’t make them do something. All you can do is take them back and maybe get another worker.”

Alderman Tommy Probst suggested if the town were to hire its own crew to look into purchasing a tractor, which could cover more ground than the zero-turn mowers.

“That’s something to look at investing into — better equipment to cut the cost,” Probst said.

Staggs said he agreed with Probst’s idea, as it would be a time saver, particularly along the Riverfront.

Vidalia resident Bill McDonough said he liked the idea of seeking bids. McDonough said the town bid out grass cutting at the former recreation park and it was reportedly only $10,000 a year, which he said is less expensive than the salaries for the people maintaining the new park.

“I think if you bid it out, you will be surprised,” McDonough said. “A lot of people cut grass professionally.”

Alderwoman Sabrina Doré said one potential advantage of bidding grass services out would be not adding an expense in employee benefits.

Craft said the town would consider options once Staggs identifies all the areas the town needs to cut.

Aldermen did not take any action or suggest a direction they might be leaning.