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To Mow Or Not To Mow

By Staff | Aug 12, 2008

The mowing of grass along the edge of Palo Alto County’s roads generated some discussion by the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors during its August 5 meeting. The mowing discussion was part of the weekly briefing of County Engineer Joel Fantz.

During his report to the supervisors, a question was raised about the mowing of grass along the county’s roads. Fantz, who had informed the board members several weeks earlier that mowing had been suspended, acknowledged that the grass was growing, and growing quite well.

“I’ve visited with some other engineers around the state, and it seems like a lot of them are depressed,” Fantz began. “It’s not about the mowing, but its about the cost of fuel for all operations that’s got a lot of engineers down.”

According to Fantz, the Secondary Road Department had a fuel expense of $120,000 during the month of July. While much of the expense is due to construction work, such as grading projects and patching, mowing also figured into the total.

“At $120,000 last month, if you multiply that by 12, well, the cost of fuel is just out of control and its eating up everything.” Fantz told the board members. “Fuel is huge and we use a lot.”

The engineer noted that when he started in the county, seven years earlier, secondary roads spent a total of $300,000 for fuel in one year. “To go from $300,000 in 12 months to $120,000 in just one month, well, how do you guesstimate that when you’re trying to do a budget?” Fantz asked the board. “It’s very tough, and I understand why these engineers are depressed.”

To counter the rising fuel costs, Fantz reminded the board that his office has made numerous cuts in the past, such as cutting back on striping of fog lines on pavements, saving around $30,000 per painting cycle.

“We didn’t crush any gravel last year, “Fantz noted, “But we have to this year. Our crusher’s fuel costs have gone up, just like ours, so we need to do something there, too.”

Fantz pointed out that by cutting back on equipment replacement, the department had been able to build up a slight reserve, but not much. “We’re in better shape than some counties, but this fuel situation is still having a huge effect. We’re just going to have to make some hard choices.”

“I know the higher grass is making it tough to see the deer in the ditches,” noted Supervisor Ron Graettinger. “Complaints about the deer and not being able to seen them is what you always hear about. I know that I mow by my place, so maybe we could ask the farmers to mow if they wanted to.”

“I guess I’d like to see the road edges mowed, too,” Supervisor Keith Wirtz said. “For sure, they need to be mowed sometime before Fall for sure.”

“Give me you direction,” Fantz replied. “We can certainly do the mowing and we’ll just have to figure something out for the fuel later. Just give me my battle orders.”

“Well, I’d like to see the mowing done,” Supervisor Ed Noonan stated, which prompted agreement from Wirtz. Supervisors Jerry Hofstad and Board Chair Leo Goeders deferred to their rural counterparts, leaving the final comment to Graettinger.

“I know the grass is really growing this year, due to all the rain, and that’s unusual,” Graettinger noted, “But I guess I’d like to see it mowed too.”

With that direction from the board, Fantz acknowledged he would have the foremen resume mowing as soon as possible.