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City rejects state's modest mowing proposal
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McMinnville officials are taking a stand and rejecting a contract with the state for mowing and litter pickup along state highways.
“Cities are very upset over this across the state,” said city administrator Bill Brock, in regard to what the state is offering this year for financial reimbursement. “They cut litter by more than half and mowing is about half.”
The state allows cities and counties to mow and pick up litter along state-owned right of ways that pass through its boundaries. In return, the state provides financial reimbursement. A contract is offered by the state annually and can either be signed or rejected by the city or county. 
In the past, McMinnville has entered into the contract. For 2014, the state reimbursed the city $40,770 to mow and $18,594 to pick up litter. This year’s contact offers the city $20,385 to mow and $4,648 to pick up litter.
The information was presented to city Streets and Sanitation Committee members Ryle Chastain, Jimmy Bonner, and Steve Harvey.
Harvey questioned, “What happens if we don’t sign this contract?”
The state will offer the contract to a contractor.
Public Works assistant director Brad Hennessee says he was told the state had previously offered cities and counties more money than a contractor, but now it’s only offering cities and counties what they are offering contractors.
“What I was told by the state when the proposal was delivered to us was they had always offered to pay more money if a city agreed to the contract rather than hiring a contractor. Now, due to funding restraints on the state level, they will only offer cities and counties what they will offer a contractor. If we don’t do it, then a contractor will assume the responsibility the city has had in the past. They will mow it three times and pick up the litter three times over the mowing cycle. We always mowed it more than what we were required to mow by the contract.”
Harvey stated, “So, the disadvantage is they won’t do as good a job as we would do ourselves.”
Along with cutting the combined financial reimbursement from $59,364 to $25,033, the state has added some responsibilities that have nothing to do with mowing and litter pickup.
“One big concern that we have also are these added responsibilities,” said Hennessee. “One disadvantage to these added responsibilities is they offer the state the opportunity to defer liability to the city on potholes, drainage, traffic signals that you lose in a storm or accidents.”
Along with mowing and litter pickup, the state wants the city to assume responsibility for: 1) crosswalk striping, 2) storm drainage, 3) traffic control signs and signals and any other traffic control or monitoring devices, 4) street lighting, 5) street name signs, 6) tree removal and vegetation control, 7) sidewalks.
Hennessee adds, “These can be rather expensive items. In the past, when it was mowing and litter pickup, we bought a tractor and put a man on it. On Saturday, we paid a person to supervise a litter crew that was made up of individuals on probation. That’s fraught with liability. We’ve never had any issues with that, but it’s one in which we hold our breath when we talk to them.”
Hennessee suggested the city reject the contract this year, wait and see what the state offers next year, and subsidize the contractor’s mowing this year by cutting the median strip from Three Star Mall to Angels Bridge.
Committee members agreed to opt out of the contract.