A few weeks ago, we reviewed the bids for nuisance abatement, and found that the city had selected a firm from Arnold, at a higher price than a qualified Ferguson business had offered. The landscaping division of Walter Knoll Florist, with retail locations in Ladue, O’Fallon, south county, and the Gate District, was selected over Palmer Residential Services. Through a sunshine request to the city, we now have the invoices for last year’s mowing by Walter Knoll.
Under last year’s contract, which has the same rates as this year, they mowed a total of 127 times. Of these mowings, 91 of them were more than 24″ tall, and were billed at the $98 an hour rate. The total charges for last year were $32,890. There were no orders for removal of trash, nor any charges for dumpsters, making that portion of the bid irrelevant to the cost.
In our analysis we found that under the contract offered by Palmer, the cost to the city would have been $20,400. The Palmer contract would have saved the city $12,490, or 38% of the total cost. And we would be employing a business based in Ferguson, rather than one from Arnold. That would seem worthwhile for the city, even if they were not saving money.
We also had several other concerns. First, all the billings were in full hours, with nothing less than two hours. Even when they mowed a very small yard, and the grass was less than 24″, they still charged for two hours. One would be forgiven for wondering how industrious their workers are if it took 2 hours to mow 329 Mueller, a mere 50×123 lot. At a minimum, they should be billing in 15 minute increments. And if they are imposing a 2 hour minimum on each property, that should have been included in their bid, which it was not.
In addition to our general suspicion that a two hour minimum was being imposed, we have a particular instance which appears to make certain that policy. In May, they mowed three properties on Mueller, charging a total of 5 hours on a single invoice (54285, in the May billing file). At the city’s request, they split that billing into three invoices, each of which was for 2 hours (54608, 54609, 54610, in the June file).
Finally, on the few properties where they did tree debris removal, the bills really added up. One property on South Harvey, which has been long neglected, was only partially abated before the owner intervened. The bill from Walter Knoll: $2,994. Had Palmer done the work, it would have been just $1,680.
So, what should the city do? First, review the contract to determine whether Walter Knoll was authorized to impose a 2 hour minimum on each job, and to round up to the next hour. Demand time records to ensure that last year’s jobs were billed in accordance with the contract. And then what? We would suggest offering them the opportunity to mutually agree to dissolve the contract, so that the city could proceed to contract with Palmer.
And on a more important note, residents of the city can now see in black and white how little our hard earned tax dollars mean to those who are spending them. We stand ready to review other city spending, but the city has made this impossible, by refusing to provide us with requested documents at no cost under the public information provision of the sunshine law. Council members recently had a special meeting focusing on infrastructure, and floated the possibility of a $32 million bond issue and an associated tax increase. They are also pushing another tax increase by spinning off the fire department into a separate taxing entity. Residents must stand firm: Not one cent for the city until we’ve had complete transparency for sufficient time to determine how our money is being spent.