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City cash crunch delays landscaping upkeep
Vandals, thieves take their toll
Plants along the bike path along Hatch Road, including here near the TID electrical substation at the corner of Hatch Road and Central Avenue, have suffered at the hands of vandals and thieves. The city doesnt have enough manpower to get to such problems very quickly. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Dan Powers walks to stay healthy and chooses the bike path between Central Avenue and the shopping center at Hatch and Mitchell. He expresses feeling "totally appalled" at the condition of the landscaping along the path. He's noticed sprinkler heads either missing or vandalized and bushes that are dead or dying south of Walgreen's at Central Avenue and Hatch Road.

"The corner simply looks barren in comparison to what it was at completion of the project," Powers told the Courier, asking who is responsible for the upkeep. "How do we get this back to its initial condition?"

Unfortunately, the city - which is 100 percent responsible for the bike path maintenance on - admits it will be slow about replacing the landscaping destroyed by vandals. There simply is not enough money to care for the area and for the city's parks in a timely fashion.

"It is a general fund expenditure and the responsibility of our Parks Department, in terms of a staff of three people for the entire city," said City Engineer Toby Wells. "It's just another area to maintain as well as the 14 parks and 27 other right of way areas and eight facilities. We are stretched very thin throughout the community."

He said the city trimmed the parks budget a few years ago which means "we're doing a whole lot more with a whole lot less." While the city may have money to replace a plant here and there or a missing or non-functioning sprinkler head, the city does not have the manpower to do the work. What the city would like to get to on a weekly basis is more of a monthly basis, admitted Wells, which is more than enough time for a bush to dry up and die.

Wells said the city has experienced a "tremendous amount" of vandalism of sprinkler heads throughout the parks and possibly some damage from wayward bikes along the bike path.

"We've actually had people steal plants out of the ground," said Wells. "We've had people steal sprinkler heads out of the ground."

For at least a year, the contractor who installed the landscaping on the newest portion of the bike trail - from Central Avenue to Richland Avenue - is on the hook for plant maintenance on his dime. Wells estimated that 20 percent of the plants there have been stolen.

"We put a plant in and it's gone the next day. That's not uncommon throughout the industry in landscaping projects."

The city used federal grant funds starting in 2008 to build the bike path in sections. The 10-foot-wide project cost $1.5 million to build the path from Central Avenue to Boothe Road before another $600,000 was spent to extend the newest section from Central to Richland. The grants did not include any landscaping maintenance care.