Thursday, August 20, 2009
City discusses W. College, grass cutting
By SUE WATSON
There is a bigger bundle of red tape involved in accepting shovel ready stimulus money from the federal government, according to Mayor Andre’ DeBerry, who is rethinking accepting $285,000 to resurface West College Street from up town to West Boundary.
“College Street stimulus money has to be planned,” he said to the board of aldermen. “We are looking at some serious issues.”
Those issues include meeting Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines of adding five-foot-wide sidewalks, the requirement that mail boxes be set back from the street a certain distance and the possible need to remove certain business signs and deal with some right-of-way issues.
“We may need to look if it benefits us to go that route (take the money to get the project done),” DeBerry said.
Public works director Don Hollingsworth said the city is trying to get the state to let the city keep the commercial signs but some mail boxes may have to be moved. He said the cost to relocate them back from the curb to meet federal guidelines may have to be borne by the city - that is, the stimulus money may not cover all costs to get the street resurfaced with stimulus money. It is one of the streets in the city that is in dire need of repair, DeBerry said, but the city does not have money to take care of many of the infrastructure needs, including the aging water and gas delivery system.
Building and grounds
Larry Miller, supervisor of building and grounds, defended his workers who have been faced with more grass than they can keep up with this summer. He cited unusual weather causing work delays in keeping the cemetery and right-of-ways trimmed and the need for more labor.
DeBerry explained that the previous board didn’t want to fill three vacancies until the new supervisor came on board and chose his own staff.
“We can advertise tonight,” said city clerk Belinda McDonald.
Alderman Russell Johnson complained that some departments were short of help and giving overtime excessively to one person instead of spreading it among employees.
“I have no problem with overtime, but I have a problem with abuse of overtime,” he said.
Johnson argued the city has more problems than just cutting grass.
“Mayor, we should set down and hash this out,” he said.
Johnson alleged some departments have people on the payroll who make $20,000 a year in overtime pay. He said the overtime should be spread evenly over employees in departments.
DeBerry argued there have been problems that had to be dealt with by overtime hours.
Alderman Harvey Payne asked if employees are coming to work and working like they should.
Miller said he wanted to address that personnel issue in executive session.
“In the meantime, the grass is still growing,” Payne said.
Miller said supervisors need to be supported but he does not know how to treat people who “miss work abusively.”
DeBerry said the city has a policy handbook advising employees of their responsibilities and rights but that the current handbook is being revised.
“We have a handbook but the new one will be more stringent and specific,” he said. “I think there are some personnel issues we need to deal with and we do have the ability to monitor performance. Ultimately, the only way to resolve some is to replace an employee.”
DeBerry said he has thought of moving the building and grounds people back to the street department for management.
“It takes three days to go over the cemetery, then we put them back on the street work on rights-of-way,” he said.
Payne said people are hired to cut grass but they may not be qualified for building and grounds maintenance.
DeBerry said the employees take care of grounds around city buildings as well as the grass at the baseball, football and soccer fields.
“Rain has been a serious factor the last couple of weeks,” Miller said.
Alderman Garrie Colhoun said several property owners have been keeping up their relatives’ burial plots because the job was not being done on a good enough basis by the city.
DeBerry said the city is not covered with insurance in such instances and that it needs to stop.
“They feel like if they don’t cut it, it doesn’t get it,” Colhoun said.
DeBerry launched into a lecture on the costs to up-keep Hill Crest Cemetery, saying families are only charged $200 a plot and “for eternity people want Escalade services and are paying Volkswagon prices, but no monthly maintenance fees.”
The city opens and closes the grave and DeBerry said he thinks people may be demanding more than they are paying for.
Miller said he doesn’t cut when the grass is wet, due to possibility of serious injuries.
“People complain when we are cutting in the cemetery that we are not cutting outside the cemetery,” said DeBerry. “And when we cut outside the cemetery, they complain we are not cutting inside the cemetery.”
The weed eater has to be run around each monument, he said.
Miller said it takes four employees to cut it right, weed eat, put flowers back in place and put back up any stones knocked over. He has five to six workers and 37 acres of cemetery, he said.
Johnson said he thinks Miller should focus on the city as a whole rather than on the cemetery.
DeBerry said the city is as concerned about the streets as the cemetery and the attractiveness of the city is the first priority, especially at the entrances. Picking up trash at the entrances to the city is the first priority, he said.
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