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Savings grow as grass is mowed

A successful county mowing crew pleases the boss and shares a bonus.

By WILL VAN SANT
Published February 6, 2007


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CLEARWATER - Bobby Voss' wife can look forward to a special anniversary because of a new management tool that pits Pinellas County workers against the private sector.

Voss mows medians and public rights of way for Pinellas' Highway Department. Last year, County Administrator Steve Spratt challenged Voss and his colleagues to work smarter and do their job more cheaply than a private company could.

Spratt thought mowing was out of whack. It was costing more than $2-million a year for workers to get the job done, and a consultant believed a private company could do the work for just over $1.1-million.

Spratt's message to workers was simple: Either beat the private sector price or your days mowing may be over. If you come in under, however, you'll get a cut of the savings.

It worked. During the mowing season of April to October of last year, workers tackled their task at a cost to taxpayers of $964,368.

That's more than $170,000 under the stipulated private sector cost. Half that money will go into the county's general fund, a quarter back to the Highway Department and the remaining 25 percent - about $42,500 - will be split among the mowers.

"When the guys were introduced to this, they really weren't keen on it," said Paul Hagler Jr., a field operations manager in the department. "I think they saw it as a way to outsource the mowing program."

Given Spratt's ultimatum, however, they got busy.

The number of workers on certain crews was trimmed. Old machines were sold and new, labor-saving equipment put to use. Crews began their days nearer to job locations rather that at headquarters, effectively increasing the time workers spent mowing each day.

Then there was the elbow grease factor.

"Really, the guys just dug in and took it seriously and went to work," Hagler said.

Impressed with the results, Spratt said he's working toward implementing similar programs with work crews in the county's utilities, parks and general services departments.

"We've adopted the philosophy to challenge our employees to show us what they can do," Spratt said.

The $42,500 will be split among about 40 workers, about half of whom were core members of the mowing team, based on the number of hours worked during the program.

Some of the checks to support staff are as little as $5. But most of the full-time mowers are getting more than $2,000. Voss, who has been mowing nine years for the county, is pocketing the juiciest check, $2,800.

And he means for some of that money to be spent on his wife for their anniversary.

"I think I'm going to buy her something really nice," he said.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 445-4166.

By the numbers

Last year, Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt thought the county's mowing program was too costly. He challenged workers to do their job for less than what a private company could. They succeeded, and will be sharing in some of the savings created.

$2-million + What the county's mowing program had been costing taxpayers annually.

$1,134,559 Amount a consultant said it would cost a private company to do job.

$964,368

What county employees were able to do the job for last year.

$170,191 Amount workers saved. As a reward, they will be splitting 25 percent of that, or about $42,500.

Source: Pinellas County, Lorick Associates Consulting.

[Last modified February 6, 2007, 10:29:23]


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