Grass grows and grows due to money woes
August 15, 2013–Blame it on the rain if you want, but even without it, Augusta has a problem with grass. It’s growing in the right of ways, it’s growing in vacant lots, and there’s not much the city can do about it.
“We definitely need a whole lot more resources,” says Engineering Director Abie Ladson. “We need personnel and we also need funding.”
Last year, Ladson says he spent $2.5 million in maintenance and over $600,000 for trees. This year, he has no budget for that, so there’s really no way to deliver the services.
The result is overgrown right of ways.
“All we’re doing right now, basically, is being reactionary,” he says. “We have two mowers and we have approximately two or three crews.”
While the Engineering Department handles mowing in the right of ways, Environmental Services has mowed the vacant lots since 2011.
“We find houses,” says Mark Johnson, director of environmental services, and he’s not joking. Occasionally, his crews find that a house has been swallowed up by the grass and weeds.
Like Ladson, he says he needs more money to effectively do the job assigned to him.
“The reality is, the need exceeds the ability,” he says. “We need the resources to get the job done.”
And that job is sometimes dangerous, given the hidden septic tanks and volatile debris buried in the overgrowth, which never seems to stop growing.
“The real issue we’re dealing with — we clean it and, 12 months later, we’re dealing with the same lot and the same frustrated neighbors and the same issue over and over and over again,” he says.
Before March 5, Johnson’s lot mowing was complaint-based, causing his teams to jump all over the city. Now, his department goes systematically from area to area, but doing it that way means it might be several months before the mowing teams come back.
And then, once the lot is cleaned, it sometimes invites illegal dumping.
“We’re creating a secondary problem,” he says.
And no matter how it’s done, mowing is expensive.
“We’ve tapped out as far as the resources we can contribute,” he says. “Today, we have over 470 vacant lots waiting to be cut, and that’s in addition to what we find when we’re there.”
Another part of the problem, Ladson says, is the type of grass they’re dealing with.
“Once you cut it, within about a week’s time it’s back up to a foot,” he says.
The solution, Johnson explains, is easy enough: “If you want more, it only costs money.”
Commissioner Marion Williams sees it a different way.
“We don’t utilize the stuff we already have,” he says. “We’re not holding people accountable for the stuff we already have. More money is going to be more loopholes for folks to do more crazy stuff.”
Regardless of the loopholes, Williams says Augusta has failed to provide by failing to look ahead.
“We talk about money and we say we need money, but I don’t see anything we’re doing to get money in except stormwater [fees] or raising taxes,” Williams says. “If you’re going to provide these services, you’ve got to do something to generate some money. We need to do something to generate some money into this government, and I can’t think of one thing we’re doing in Augusta that would attract people to the city. Every other city I go to, they’ve got something to attract people there, but we just don’t get it.”
Commissioner Bill Lockett, who has requested that each neighborhood in town be notified about when they can expect their grass to be cut, says the lack of service is taking a toll.
“Our current system is not working,” he says. “It’s not being cut often enough to make it look good on a regular basis, and then, oftentimes, you wait for weeks to get it cut.”