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Rushford puts halt to contract mowing for 2013

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Mar 1st, 2013
Posted in Rushford Government

After a lengthy process to determine potential cost savings of contracted versus public works mowing of the city’s 135 acres of land, the city will sit on the idea of contract mowing for this season. The idea, led by Councilor Roger Colbenson, could potentially pit the labor union against the city if the council were to proceed with an RFP (Request for Proposal) and the seeking of bids from outside contractors. If the city were to use contracted mowing, they must show at least a 10 percent cost savings to labor management. In addition, a 120-day period of notice must coincide with the verification of savings.

According to city attorney Terry Chiglo, he believes the city has already begun this 120 notice. However, the contract does not specify which must come first, the savings verification or the 120 period. Labor management, he argued, would likely insist that the notice must come after. As the contract item is not spelled out clearly, Chiglo believes the labor union would file a grievance if the city were to proceed. Arbitration would be a costly outcome for the city.

“The language just isn’t there,” stated Chiglo. “It’s not a wise expenditure of city funds to pursue this. Realistically, the 2013 season is over.”

City Administrator Steve Sarvi suggested the issue could be a part of upcoming discussions with labor management. “This might be an opportunity to look at it another way to achieve a result that’s favorable to all.”

Councilor Vern Bunke referenced his repeated request for cost estimates of labor by Public Works. “We haven’t received it yet,” he noted. Bunke suggested that allowing public works to mow this season, now that the city is tracking the number of hours and knows equipment cost and overhead, the city may finally see those time and cost figures. “We’ll have to have that anyway,” he continued.

“If we don’t push this, we’ll know the real employee cost and hours. Then, we can weigh the costs equally,” echoed Councilor Mark Honsey. “It’s just not worth it [to proceed] legally. What’s the sense of pushing it forward just to see that?”

The city intends to discuss the issue through labor management negotiations before proceeding with any seeking of bids on contract mowing. It is unclear if they’ll proceed with a one-time, test mowing from a contractor, as suggested by Bunke.

In related news, the city council has voted 3 to 2 to terminate the part-time, 36 hour per week employment of Curt Courrier within Public Works, effective March 29. Public Works had long lobbied for the council to make Courrier a full-time position. The heated topic has been ruminating through the council for some time with Mayor Chris Hallum and Councilor Bunke on clearly opposite ends of the debate.

“I still don’t believe we need another full-time person,” said Bunke. “I’m not totally convinced that there aren’t cost savings to be had using part-time, summer labor.”

“Labor management has given us more than enough proof that they need him,” argued Hallum.

Hallum referenced a laundry list of items that Public Works has compiled showing significantly increased workload since 1995. “Staff makes a recommendation. Do you just ignore it? They come up with a plan and you reject it,” he added. “The responsibilities thrown on Public Works have grown exponentially.”

“We have given them an alternative,” replied Bunke. “And we’ve never gotten any times associated with the list.”

“This will tie our hands,” cautioned Hallum.

“This will start the discussion,” responded Bunke, who led the motion to terminate Courrier’s position. The motion was supported by Robert Dahl and Roger Colbenson.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, March 11, at 6:30pm, at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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