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City poised to contract out parks maintenance
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The city is poised to contract with a private landscaping maintenance firm to mow and edge the grass in all Ceres parks to save money when compared to costs of having city staff continuing to do the work.

The contract would not only result in a $10,000 savings in city labor costs but also increase efficiencies by decreasing wear and tear on city equipment and increase staffing flexibility. Acting City Manager Art deWerk noted that a contractor would be obligated to provide the service whereas city staff absences can and does cause delays in services.

According to City Engineer Toby Wells, changes in city staffing have caused a "wrestling with how to get our parks in tip-top shape."

Under a new contract concept, the city would hire a full-time "working" parks supervisor to supervise parks workers and all contractors. Currently two city supervisorial staff members have stepped in to help oversee parks maintenance.

Acting City Manager Art deWerk said Code Enforcement Officer Frank Alvarez has been "run into the ground" to help maintain parks. Alvarez needs to get back to code enforcement activities, he said. Jeremy Damas, who is deputy director of Public Works, also has been out on a mower.

Alvaraz spoke as a private citizen and expressed concern about giving away city jobs in lieu of a private contract. He also suggested that any supervisor needs to be a "working supervisor" who can instill pride over Ceres park care to city workers. Alvarez asked the council to consider how a contractor might be held accountable about damaging sprinkler heads as lawns are being hastily mowed.

Wells said the city risks broken sprinkler heads as a contractor works but didn't want that derailing what he considers a "really streamlined approach" to taking care of the parks. He urged the council to allow staff to iron out the details of replacement of broken sprinklers.
Alvarez and six employees currently take care of Ceres parks maintenance. Two are temporary employees. The city has held off filling three vacant parks staff positions through attrition as it awaits council direction about a private contractor.

In preparation for a contract, the city sought bids with Valley Scapes of Merced coming in as the lowest bidder of $3,378 per week for mowing and edging all Ceres parks and grounds. The contract amounts to $150,000 for 44 weeks of service per year.

"We vetted this arrangement and we think it's going to work," deWerk told the council.

Members of the council said that before Alvarez stepped in to help with park maintenance, the parks were in not in the best condition. Because of Alvarez's diligence, "parks have not looked as good as they currently look," said Vice Mayor Ken Lane.

Councilman Eric Ingwerson said he hopes any contractor can keep the new high standard for city park maintenance set by Alvarez.

DeWerk assured the council that any new parks supervisor would be a hard worker.

He said the city organization has "abandoned a culture of a supervisor who sits in an office and points for others to work."

"We're a totally different culture and we won't tolerate that. Every supervisor is a working supervisor."