Councilwoman Linda Ryno took the city to task Monday evening for what she called embarrassing upkeep of city parks.
The remark came as the council was poised to order assessments for the city Landscaping and Lighting District for fiscal year 2017-18.
Ryno zeroed in first on landscape maintenance on Darrah Street, noting that the district will spend $2,282 out of $2,499.64 from revenue. The city contracts with Howard Training Center to maintain landscaping and rights-of-way to maintain 11 acres of area across 122 right-of-way zones. She said one of the street bulbs on Darrah Street consists of rock and weeds.
"I just think that's atrocious that the property owners pay into it and that's what they have to look at," said Ryno. "We're talking about absolutely nothing but weeds and rock. That, to me, is not a landscaped area."
City Manager Toby Wells said the assessments being charged to property owners are "nowhere near what they need to be to provide a level of service" that Ryno expects. He said all of the landscaping districts in Ceres collect about $200,000 when full care requires about $1.2 million. Increasing those assessments is not easy and is subject to the Prop. 218 process.
Ryno said she remembers Darrah Street being nicely landscaped at one time. Wells quickly asserted that costs far exceeded revenues collected, which prompted Ryno to retort "so we just let plants die."
She went on to suggest the Eastgate Master Plan entry at Whitmore Avenue and Eastgate Boulevard offers nothing but dirt and weeds.
Public Works Director Jeremy Damas rose to say part of the landscaping problem is the loss and damage of sprinkler heads caused by the public.
"We replace approximately 100 sprinklers a month in all zones because the kids just go through and literally kick them off," said Damas. He said many of the plants die for lack of water and there is no funding to replace dead or dying plants "so there are some bare spots."
Ryno said Boothe Road pays an assessment for little more than trees and weeds.
"Westpointe is an embarrassment," commented Ryno, adding "the medians are just full of weeds. If I lived in that area and I knew I was paying an assessment, I would be really unhappy."
While handing out pictures to illustrate her point, Ryno said the message that conditions convey is "the city doesn't care about the property so why should the homeowner?"
Ryno next focused her complaints on Sam Ryno Park, noting how she and her husband went out last year to personally cut down weeds that were four- to six-feet high.
"It was an embarrassment to us that one of the nicest parks in this town looked that way, looked horrible."
This month she said she visited the park and was appalled to find weeds six feet tall.
"I'm not exaggerating. It's absolutely ridiculous."
Wells noted that the city has only three parks maintenance workers "when we previously had nine." He suggested that the council could amend the budget to add $100,000 to hire more staff and raise the level of maintenance.
The city contracts with Valley Scapes Mowing Service to mow all the parks except for Costa Fields in Smyrna Park and Ceres River Bluff Regional Park.
Damas said one worker spends four to five hours per day taking care of irrigation in all the parks.
"Kids are hurting us," said Damas.
Wells said while it sounded like all he and his staff was offering was excuses, he said the reality is the manpower is not what it needs to be. A heavy rainfall year did not help.
"Nobody is proud of this," said Wells. "This is not something that staff looks around and goes, ‘Oh this is great.' That's the last thing we look at. At the same time we have to be realistic. We put our employees where they can do the most work possible and unfortunately ... we're putting duct tape and baling wire and Band-Aids on things that need a whole lot more help."