TAMPA — Hillsborough County roadways, which were overgrown and strewn with trash last year, should look trimmer and neater this summer as county officials prioritize mowing and litter pickup.
Public Works Director John Lyons assured county commissioners recently that past problems with mowing contractors are over and new companies hired in December and March are doing a good job.
Last year, two contractors quit before their contracts were over, and county crews could not keep up with the backlog. There was also an embarrassing incident in which a county activist photographed a roadside covered with chopped litter soon after a county crew got through mowing.
Complaints started filtering into county commissioners’ offices, and they demanded action.
“These medians that we want mowed, especially on our major thoroughfares, these are the gateways to our neighborhoods,” Commissioner Sandy Murman said Thursday. “When people are coming into town looking at communities they may want to live in, if their companies are relocating here, I think we have to really think seriously about how our communities look.”
Lyons said he got the message and started making changes on several fronts. Under the latest contracts, companies are required to mow 12 cycles, double the number required when the two companies quit last summer because they couldn’t keep up. And, when the most recent contracts were awarded, county officials concentrated on a company’s ability to get the job done rather than which firm submitted the lowest bid.
Later this year, Lyons said he will ask county commissioners to appropriate around $900,000 to hire 13 more employees and equip them to work on mowing and litter.
Four private companies mow about 25 percent of the roadways, medians and county-owned land surrounding retention ponds. County employees mow the rest. Together, they mow about 75,000 acres, mostly during the rainy summer months. That’s the equivalent of mowing 53,000 football fields annually, Lyons said. Lyons compared one cycle completed by a company in its geographic zone to a trip from Tampa to Minneapolis.
In addition to the 12 mowing cycles, Lyons said the county will add a cycle of litter cleanup. The county has already been working employees overtime and using private contractors to attack the litter program. Also planned is a public education, anti-litter campaign done in conjunction with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.
“The board gave us some clear direction that they had higher expectations,” Lyons said. “Anybody who mows grass has the responsibility to pick up litter before they mow.”