BOC OKs reduced-cost lawn contract

COVINGTON -- County commissioners approved a proposal by Durden's Lawn Maintenance Tuesday night to reduce its contract for a savings of more than $12,000.

Commissioners had been considering bringing the lawn maintenance contract in house, which would have saved the county an estimated $58,000 annually. But the vote was unanimous to remain with Durden's at an annual cost of $103,714.83, reduced from $115,720.

Owner Billy Durden, who has held the county contract for nine years, offered to reduce his contract price by limiting shrub pruning, pine straw and mulch to one time per year; eliminating fertilizer and weed control for grass; and taking a 4 percent pay cut. In addition, Durden will take on the vacant lot beside the Newton County Judicial Center -- the former site of Meadors Laundry -- at no additional cost.

In June, commissioners discussed allowing inmates or those sentenced to community service to do lawn maintenance at an estimated savings of $70,080 annually. With the cost reduction offered by Durden, that estimated savings would have been reduced to around $58,000. But Commissioner J.C. Henderson said the potential liability for the county to bring the contract in-house might not be worth the risk.

"We graciously accept his offer to do more work for less money," said Commissioner Mort Ewing before making the motion to accept Durden's proposal.

The new contract will be in effect beginning Aug. 1. Ewing proposed that the contract be reviewed again when it expires in December.

Ewing said Friday he looked at several factors when making his decision regarding the contract. Durden said he has up-front costs for materials like pine straw and chemicals for the months of January through June that are not a factor the last six months, Ewing said. In the past, the county has had trouble with lawn care vendors, and Durden has done an excellent job, he added.

"Mr. Durden made a good faith effort to reduce the cost while taking on more work. I felt it would be unfair to him to cancel his contract mid-term. It would be more appropriate to look at it when it's up for renewal," Ewing said.

He added that the contract will be reconsidered later this year.

"As long as we have a budget crunch, and that's going to be for another 12 to 18 months, everything has to be on the table. We have to look at every contract service agreement and all services we offer in an effort to provide services at a more efficient cost," he said.