LARGO – Four commissioners agreed to save the city $6,100 by contracting out the job of one grounds maintenance worker, leaving only three such workers on a crew that will continue to shrink as those positions are vacated.
Two commissioners voted against the expanded contract for Buccaneer Landscape Management, which has been handling the additional work since June.
“I have a problem supporting this,” said Commissioner Michael Smith.
The landscaping around Largo City Hall, which is being maintained by Buccaneer, hasn’t been a suitable first impression for visitors to the city, he explained.
“The outside of it is looking really rough,” he said.
Smith said he supported the concept of contracting out mowing and grounds maintenance work in order to eventually save the city about $126,000 when the commission first discussed the idea in May. But he voted against the most recent contract expansion on Nov. 7, along with Commissioner Harriet Crozier and now retired Commissioner Gigi Arntzen. With Mayor Pat Gerard absent, the result was a 3-3 vote that delayed the decision.
City staff clarified that they were working toward replacing the remaining grounds maintenance crew with contractors in order to realize the projected $126,000 in savings. The city saved about $62,700 when Buccaneer Landscaping was awarded a two-year contract to cover the work of three staff vacancies in June. When an additional grounds worker left shortly thereafter, the maintenance of Ulmer Park, Largo Municipal Complex and the Largo Community Center also went to Buccaneer.
Crozier said she was already against contracting out the work, but especially objected to non-city workers maintaining the “prime property” of City Hall and Largo Community Center.
“It’s one thing that you’re going to get rid of this department, but I don’t think, at this time, I like the idea of giving prime property to an outsider,” she said. “(The) three workers, as a team, I think they should take care of our prime property.”
The city’s Communications Workers of America group was against the contract altogether, said representative Dawn Smolowitz.
“Though city administration says the service is acceptable, it’s not superior service that the employee is expected to maintain,” she said. “We believe $6,100 in savings isn’t worth the loss of the superior services to the city and its community.”
Commissioner Robert Murray said that while he agreed with some of the union’s arguments, the issue came down to balancing the budget.
“We had to cut expenditures to match revenues. This was one of those attempts that we were doing to do that,” he said. “It’s not like we’re putting somebody on the street and removing someone from that position.”
Commissioner Curtis Holmes objected to the argument that quality of grounds work around City Hall had suffered.
“For a November horticulture, it looks pretty good to me,” he said. “If we can get basically the same job done – no offense, but this isn’t rocket science. This is cutting the lawn. For $6,100, we need to save the folks the money.”
Holmes asked if Buccaneer’s services were adequate. Parks Supervisor Greg Brown said it was, but explained that the number of visits to properties had fallen given the winter season. The commission could request a higher level of service from the contractors for any property they maintained, but the work would have to be rebid, and the price would increase, parks staff explained.
The city-employed grounds crew currently maintains the Largo library property, McMullen Park and the land around Clearwater-Largo Road.
The newest commissioner, Jamie Robinson, voted in favor of the expanded contract. Gerard was again absent.