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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 4 years ago

County mowing program hits a rough patch

by: Nolan Peterson News Editor

The grass is definitely not greener on this side of the fence, according to the Sarasota County Commission.

Two contractors hired to mow portions of Sarasota County’s medians and rights of way have ceased working, unable to stay afloat financially after bidding too low to win their contracts, county officials reported at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

County Commissioner Joe Barbetta called Sarasota County’s rights of way and median mowing program “a fiasco,” citing instances of corruption and a bidding process that puts mowers out of business.

“There is no way I’m putting another dollar into this program,” Barbetta said. “This is one of the most basic services that we can provide, as basic as picking up the trash, and we haven’t done it right in five years.”
Spencer Anderson, director of Field Services for Sarasota County, made a presentation to the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday asking for an additional $1.5 million to fund mowing rights of way and medians in Sarasota County.

Anderson reported that mowing contractors Jackson Landscape Professionals Inc. and Stormtech Inc. had ceased work in two Sarasota County mowing zones because their low bids for the projects were financially unsustainable. Anderson brought forward a request to the County Commission to hire the next two lowest bidders for the mowing contract, which spikes the mowing budget by $1.5 million over the next year.

Commissioners expressed concern about the rising mowing costs and were reluctant to commit to another yearlong contract before a top-to-bottom review of the bidding process could be done. The risk with not going ahead with approving the budget increase, commissioners said, is that the grass will continue to grow in Sarasota County until new mowers are hired.  

“If we’re not a well-kept county, I don’t know why anyone would want to live here,” County Commissioner Nora Patterson said. “But we need to do something about our policies.”

The risk with approving the additional funding, Barbetta said, is that the problem “will just be kicked down the road.”

“We need a total shake up in the whole system,” he added.

The commission decided to delay a final decision on the mowing contract until Wednesday’s board meeting. There was uniform agreement among the commissioners on the need for a workshop session to explore ways to correct flaws in the bidding process to avoid future shutdowns in mowing services and more ballooning costs.

“Budgets are getting tighter,” County Commissioner Christine Robinson said. “We have some tough decisions to make.”

Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected].

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