Mayor Tab Bowling wants to double the amount of mowing and trimming along Beltline Road Southwest and U.S. 31 South while beginning daily litter pickup along the two major Decatur corridors.
Bowling is proposing a pilot program in which the city would pay an independent contractor to have four employees pick up trash year-round and begin weekly mowing and trimming of the two routes.
If approved by the City Council, he said this would add $106,317 to the budget for the final four months of fiscal 2021. The city already has $51,200 budgeted for mowing.
The estimate includes $55,117 to pay for litter pickup this year, and $51,200 for the additional mowing and trimming in fiscal 2021.
The cost for 12 months of trash collection and seven months of mowing on the two roads in fiscal 2022 would be $358,330. The trash collection would cost $179,130 while the mowing would add $179,200 to next year's total.
The contractor now mows the Beltline and U.S. 31 South routes twice a month, weather permitting, for $6,400 per cut.
Bowling said he believes the additional work “will stop these roads from looking like a cotton field,” his description of what occurs when mowers run over litter in the medians and rights of way.
He said the proposal comes at the suggestion of former Fairfield Mayor Tim Kant, who the city hired in February as a consultant for $4,500, plus expenses, for a three-month pilot.
Kant’s agreement with the city was to visit Decatur twice a month to give the mayor and city suggestions on beautification and other ideas. Kant is a trained horticulturalist.
“He said after his tour of the city that we ‘just needed to put a little shine on it,’” Bowling said.
In June 2018, the city took over the upkeep of the state routes through Decatur from the Alabama Department of Transportation because of complaints that the state was only mowing roads like Sixth Avenue/U.S. 31, Beltline Road/Alabama 67, Alabama 20 and Alabama 24 three times a summer.
The initial agreement was that the state would pay the city up to $40,000 for a minimum of four mowing cycles per year between May and September.
Bowling said he hopes his proposal for increased mowing and litter pickup on U.S. 31 and Beltline Road are adopted as phase 1 of beautification efforts that would extend to other parts of the city.
City Council President Jacob Ladner and fellow members Kyle Pike and Carlton McMasters said they had not seen the mayor’s proposal but they welcomed the possibility of adding more mowing and litter pickup. Councilman Hunter Pepper could not be reached for comment.
Ladner said residents want the city to look better. He said this proposal, combined with the roughly $7 million Sixth Avenue streetscape the council is considering, “would be a good start. I’ll leave it up to the department heads to tell us how effective what we’re doing is.”
Pike said he looks forward to seeing the proposal on the next agenda, possibly in mid-June. He said the council could start with this year’s budget and then consider adding the proposed expense for next year during the process of approving a fiscal 2022 budget.
“I’m a huge supporter of doing anything we can to improve the looks of our rights of way,” Pike said.
Councilman Billy Jackson supported the initial city contract to take over mowing from the state but he said Wednesday that Bowling’s proposal expands the city’s use of independent contractors, which he opposes.
Jackson was vocal in his opposition to the city’s switch from employing a full-time mowing force to independent contractors in 2013. The switch came after four years of budget woes that led to numerous cuts in the Parks and Recreation budget. The contract cost about $800,000 at the time versus an estimated $1 million for full-time employees, plus the cost of buying and maintaining equipment.
“When we did this at the time, my position was is it would eventually put us over a barrel, and now the cost is increasing as I predicted,” Jackson said.
McMasters said he would like for the city to be able to do its own mowing and litter pickup, but this is the best solution for now with the labor shortages that many employers are facing.
“We’ve got to improve our city’s appearance,” McMasters said.