City won’t ask contractors to mow properties

by April Scheinoha

    Parks and Recreation Department staff will continue to mow small city-owned properties after a motion failed at the Thief River Falls City Council meeting Tuesday, April 18.
    A motion to send out requests for proposals to mow the properties failed by a vote of 3 to 5. Voting in favor were Council Member Josh Hagen, Mayor Brian Holmer and Council Member Rachel Prudhomme. Voting in opposition were Council Members Jason Aarestad, Jerald Brown, Curt Howe, Steve Narverud and Don Sollom.
    The properties included:
    • Areas near lift stations;
    • The bird watching area
    • At the intersection of Red Lake Boulevard and Third Street;
    • Near Columbia Avenue;
    • Boulevards adjacent to the municipal parking lots (Knight Avenue, and near Johnson Funeral Service, the Schooner and the Carnegie)
    • City-owned lots along Highway 1 and Sherwood Avenue
    • Outside the fence of the lime sludge ponds
    The above locations are currently mowed by Parks and Recreation Department staff. Parks and Recreation Director Joe Amundson was instructed by the Parks and Recreation Committee to provide a list of priority areas for mowing. He said the above areas were chosen for the contractors’ list due to their size.
    Amundson indicated that the city isn’t interested in hiring contractors to mow Hartz or Lions parks at this time. Larger parks weren’t included due to concerns regarding when the parks would be mowed.
    Brown brought the matter to the Parks and Recreation Committee a week earlier. He indicated that staff could instead devote their time to maintaining roofs on city property. The city may save money since it wouldn’t have to pay for labor, fuel and upkeep, Brown said. He referred to the budget, which includes a $90,000 mower.
    Later, though, Howe said “everyone knows” the city wouldn’t buy a 16-foot lawn mower when a 10-foot lawn mower would be sufficient.
    This wasn’t the first time that city leaders have thought about having contractors mow properties currently mowed by Parks and Recreation Department staff. Prior to Amundson’s time as parks and recreation director, city leaders investigated and found it was cheaper for staff to mow the properties.
    Regarding this latest discussion, Amundson indicated that the matter was brought to the council right away since staff expected to begin their mowing schedule a day or two days after the council meeting.
    Howe, a former Parks and Recreation Department employee, said he believed all city parks would be next. He suggested that the city should also request proposals for removing snow from sidewalks and streets.
    “This is all about saving money,” replied Hagen. “That’s it.”
    Quality was also addressed. Narverud contacted the League of Minnesota Cities. He found that many public entities had used private contractors to mow public property. However, due to quality issues, those entities are again mowing public property.
    At one point, the discussion moved on to maintenance at other parks facilities. Sollom said there are broken tiles throughout Ralph Engelstad Arena, raising concerns about the committee’s oversight of the arena. Sollom asked, “Don’t you ever ask questions, Jerry?” He then asked Brown what changes had been instituted at the arena.
    Brown replied that he couldn’t tell Sollom in the public setting of a council meeting. Sollom said he could.
    Hagen then laughed. Sollom asked whether he thought it was funny that REA was “going to hell.”
    Prudhomme defended council members currently sitting on the Parks and Recreation Committee. She said she didn’t think it was fair to attack committee members since the department leader needs to have some accountability. Prudhomme added that it’s not the committee’s job to micromanage the department.