Mow money 

Once a week, workers from Emerald Isle Landscaping visit Golden Hills Park, on Delmonico Drive in Rockrimmon. The company, headquartered in Centennial but with offices in Colorado Springs and Denver, has been contracted by the city to perform routine maintenance on these five acres.

In fact, Emerald Isle is one of 11 companies the city is paying to mow, edge and trim scores of neighborhood parks, says Kurt Schroeder, the city's manager of Parks, Trails and Open Space.

"It was at the direction of [City] Council," he says. "They wanted to see us, instead of hiring employees, going with a contractor. We got so significantly cut in 2009 and '10, and when they gave us some money back this year, they said that they wanted to see it spent in this fashion."

Under deep budget cuts, last year the city was forced to prioritize the majority of parks money for upkeep of larger parks and sports venues — which are revenue-generators for the city, Schroeder points out. Smaller neighborhood parks, such as Golden Hills, received very little attention — if any at all (see "Pretty, ugly," News, May 26). They didn't get fertilizer. They weren't watered as much as the larger parks. They weren't mowed regularly.

"They are the ones that took the brunt of our budget reductions the last couple of years," says Schroeder. "Because we had such a reduction in staff, we couldn't do it." He says that in 2010, parks and rec laid off 37 employees.

For this year, the city restored $750,000 to the parks department for maintenance of the city's 131 neighborhood parks. (This came before Mayor Steve Bach announced an additional $700,000 to help restore those parks.) Council President Scott Hente says he and colleagues didn't direct the parks department to outsource the spending, but instead expressed a general desire to see the money spent in that fashion.

"The previous Council said, 'If we can outsource some of this stuff, that would be a good thing,'" says Hente. "And that was a generic statement. The Council does not get involved in the day-to-day letting of contracts. That would be the worst thing, to get a politician involved in contracts."

Hente believes it's preferable to feed local, private companies the contracts for such maintenance work.

Joe Ostrand, operations director for Emerald Isle, says the city divided the neighborhood parks into 12 packages and put these out for bid.

Ostrand won his bid, he says, by using the city's budget to calculate what the parks department spent per acre on maintenance, then bidding under that number.

"We can do it cheaper than the city can," he says, adding that the contract meant he could hire six more employees.

The city is paying for neighborhood parks work under one-year contracts with the option to be renewed four times. Contracts began in May and cover work done through the end of October, which Schroeder says gives the parks department "lots of flexibility."

The community parks and sports complexes are still maintained by public employees, he says, adding, "We need a little more control and flexibility to manage those properties that can accommodate the uses." As he notes, the city needs to be creative when scheduling maintenance at a busy sports complex.

As for the private contractors, Schroeder says, "So far, so good."



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