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City contract mowing costs balloon

Who knew mowing grass could be such big business?

The city of Mount Airy already was paying a hefty sum to various private contractors for grounds maintenance under a multi-year cycle that expired on June 30 — $250,827.

And under a new five-year plan that began with the municipality’s present fiscal year that went into effect on July 1, the cost has jumped to $303,674. That’s an increase of $52,847, or 17 percent.

“Inflation is killing us,” Commissioner Tom Koch said during a recent meeting in which the city council approved the latest contracts — numbering 10 in all.

Despite the higher costs, the vote was 5-0, apparently reflecting a sentiment among the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners that such situations have become an economic fact of life, with the mowing pacts just the latest example.

“Most of them were bid originally in 2018,” said city Parks and Recreation Director Peter Raymer, whose department includes landscaping operations, “and a lot has changed since 2018.”

The new contract period runs from July 1 of this month to June 30, 2028.

Many areas involved

While most people might assume that city-owned sites are mowed by municipal personnel, this is not the case due to a lack of manpower. So the private sector must be relied on for this.

The sprawling mowing operations include Oakdale Cemetery, a 22-acre facility along North Main Street.

“There’s a lot of weed-eating there, as you can imagine,” Raymer said during the recent meeting.

Other areas involved include the medians of the U.S. 52 corridor in the city limits and sections around its off/on ramps, flood-control areas, the grounds of municipal utility facilities, city parks, the Granite City Greenway and others.

Municipal personnel began soliciting bids for the mowing contracts in March through various channels.

“We had an above-average interest,” Raymer said of vendors vying for the mowing jobs, “approximately five bids for most of the contracts.”

The parks and rec director said there was a sense of optimism surrounding the process, which got dashed.

“We were hoping they would come in around the same (as earlier contracts),” Raymer said regarding the sums of offers received, “but unfortunately they did not.”

Two of the 10 bids approved by the commissioners recently actually were less than the previous totals. This is for mowing at Riverside, Tharrington, Rowe and Graham parks; a green space on Cherry Street; and greenway areas, and the grounds of water tower and lift pump/station facilities.

Boyd’s Landscaping was awarded the lion’s share of contracts, three of the 10 totaling $180,064, including for the city-owned cemetery spaces. It has handled municipal mowing operations for years.

Three other contracts went to S&S Cutting, two to Stevens and Son and one each to Tim Burton and Knights Grading and LM.

The city staff recommended approving the lowest bids received for each segment in the scope of work, which also included the contractors’ experience and references.



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