TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners approved new mowing contracts Wednesday, hoping to avoid a replay of a contractual dispute last summer that left grass knee-high along county roadways, medians and drainage ponds.
The winning companies — PROS Investment Corp., Marks Excavating Inc., and Infante Services Inc. — weren’t necessarily the lowest bidders. Public Works Director John Lyons told commissioners the county restructured the bidding process to make sure the winning companies could handle the work, instead of focusing on getting the lowest bids.
Last summer, two companies that had won county mowing contracts with low bids quit mowing around July or August. The owners of the companies said they were losing money and couldn’t handle the workload, partly because of an unusually rainy summer.
By the time it was clear the companies weren’t coming back to work, county roads and medians were overgrown and constituents were outraged. County crews were thrown into the fray, but couldn’t catch up.
Lyons said the fiasco was partly the county’s fault.
“We didn’t really give them an idea how big the acreage was,” he said, referring to the previous contractors. “And we probably accepted some bids that were too low.”
Commissioner Kevin Beckner, incensed over the still-shaggy condition of roadways in the northwest and eastern parts of the county, took the unusual step of calling representatives of the three winning companies before the commission to question them personally about their qualifications. He also asked each of the men if they thought they could handle the work set out in the contracts. They all said yes.
“I still have some reservations,” Beckner said after the meeting. “As I drive around the county, especially in the northwestern parts and in some of the eastern parts, grass is overgrown in the medians and it looks absolutely horrendous.”
Unlike the previous contracts, the mowing companies are now paid by the acre instead of by a site or geographical area. Lyons said the average prices paid under the new contracts is about $51 an acre, compared to about $31 an acre under the previous contracts.
Another difference is that the new contracts are for one year only, instead of two years under the previous structure.
Lyons assured commissioners that the companies would remove all trash before mowing and would clean up clippings.
“We’re not in the confetti-making business,” Lyons said.
The commission also took these other actions:
Approved changes to the county’s animal control ordinance that would exempt sterilized, feral cats from county licensing and confinement requirements applied to cats with owners. The amendments were the final step in adopting a program to trap, neuter and vaccinate feral cats before clipping their ears and releasing them into their old neighborhoods.
Several veterinarians and the head of a group representing veterinary hospitals asked commissioners to hold off on the ordinance because cats can spread disease, including rabies. Victor Crist was the only commissioner to vote against the measure, saying cats are a non-native species that preys on indigenous wildlife such a birds and squirrels.
Approved a contract between the Library Services Department and a nonprofit organization called Learning is for Everyone to create and operate a Community Innovation Center on the third floor of the John F. Germany Library. The downtown center will feature robotics, a computer lab, metal workshop and an audio-video production space.
The county will pay Learning is for Everyone $150 an hour, not to exceed $10,000 a year, to train library personnel to run the center. Most of the money for equipment will come from grants and private donors, said Irv Cohen, board chairman of Learning is for Everyone.