Sarasota mowing trouble continues

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. - Mowing the grass in Sarasota County has long been a controversial issue when it comes to county owned land and the rising cost to continue the service has put the issue back in the spot light.

"The problem is we have non-mowing people drawing up specifications that aren't workable and its put us in a deep hole and I don't know when we are going to get out of it," said County Commissioner Joe Barbetta.

Earlier this year county commissioners allotted nearly a million dollars to hire employees to mow county grass and to purchase the equipment to get the job done. But that investment is just a small portion of the overall budget spent on mowing.

"I was told it was about 5 and a half million dollars I think it is about 7 million when you're done, especially with the in house employees we now have," added Barbetta.

In addition to hiring personnel the county contracts out about 85% of the work to outside companies. A move many say is one of the reasons the county's mowing bill is so high. The other reason is the grass is being cut more and more each year.

"The county's code requires that grass be no higher than 12 inches in the residential areas so the county has to maintain those areas in the same condition, so they are maintaining monthly service in those areas," said Spencer Anderson the director of the mowing department.

In some cases, county property is cut several times a month. Recently, mowers also increased the amount of times they cut in urban communities to 36 times a year from just 18 times, several years ago. And when the total area being cut is compared to other communities, Sarasota is ahead of the pack.

"We contract out about 22 hundred acres and Manatee County for example contracts about 400 acres, " added Anderson.

The increase in the mowing expenses comes at a time when the county is facing a $45 million budget short fall -- which is why Barbetta says they need solutions.  "Its one of the most basic services the county provides but yet we can't seem to not be able to do it right," added  Barbetta