Landscape fixes won't be cheap
By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA PALMS -- A move to save money and improve Tampa Palms' landscaping may end up costing the community hundreds of thousands in newly discovered repairs.
In recent months, supervisors with the Tampa Palms Community Development District voted to eliminate the community's in-house landscaping crew and liquidate its equipment -- decisions initially expected to save about $300,000.
But a walk-through of the grounds on May 31 uncovered a laundry list of repairs and improvements that must be made in coming years.
Under the community's own landscape crew, trees developed diseases, ground lights blew out and became buried under mulch, and water pumps leaked like sieves.
"There's a lot of maintenance that has gone by that has not been done because we haven't had a budget increase," said supervisor Andy Miller. "We let some things go so we could keep the grass green; we lost control and now we've got to get it back."
The revelations came June 1 after OneSource Landscape & Golf Services took over and began inspecting the property with a consultant, OLM.
Lack of irrigation, poor pruning of shrubs and insect infestation took its toll on Tampa Palms' greenery, a report showed.
At least $60,000 worth of Canary palm trees are damaged or diseased, and a leaking pump station that helps water the community could cost up to $30,000 to repair.
"I live here, so what we found was rather depressing," said Maggie Wilson.
"But whenever you change regimes you find something," Wilson said, adding the problems aren't immediately visible to someone driving through the community at 35 mph.
Tommy Medlock, president of OLM, reviewed the grounds with a contingent of residents, district officials and OneSource during a nearly six-hour tour May 31.
"I think it will take several hundred thousand dollars (to fix) ... but I don't have any concrete numbers," Medlock said. "The way to properly do this is to go out and get a master plan."
Officials caution that the expense for repairs and updates, including lighting and signs, will be spaced over two to five years.
"I don't know what it's going to cost," said supervisor Mark Henseigh. But "we have well over $2-million in reserves. About a million is already earmarked for the streetlight fund. We've got $1.3-million left."
The district has taken several steps to reduce landscaping costs and enhance the appearance of Tampa Palms.
Chief among them was the hiring of OLM and OneSource, which sculpts the scenic views at Busch Gardens and the Grand Cypress resort in Orlando.
And on June 12 supervisors hired Brian Lamb of Moyer & Associates to replace former field manager Tom Picciano at 60 percent of Picciano's $58,000 salary. OneSource retained six former Tampa Palms CDD employees.
The district will auction thousands of dollars worth of landscape equipment.
"There's a fleet of trucks, trailers and some landscape maintenance equipment, such as mowers and edgers," said assistant district manager John Daugirda. "The goal is to have (the auction) next month."
Finding a landscape architect to help design a new vision for Tampa Palms is another priority, officials said.
Citing a growing list of improvements, supervisors said the repairs will be parceled out.
"We're not going to do it all at once," said Mark Fitzpatrick, chairman of the taxing district. "We're not going to go out and write a check to replace every palm tree. We've got to establish some priorities ... and change the way we do business."
-- Melia Bowie can be reached at (813) 269-5312.
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