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Council OKs town-wide landscaping

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Pulaski Town Council voted 5-1 Tuesday to proceed with a town-wide landscaping plan, using funds that must be returned to the state if not used by the town.

Councilman Joseph Goodman cast the sole dissenting vote. He said he has received a lot of “pushback” from the community on spending $36,000 in one year to re-landscape nine of the town’s most visible flowerbeds. There are a total of 33 beds.

The town already has half of the required funds remaining in its beautification budget for the current fiscal year. The town budgets $20,000 per fiscal year for beautification, but has only used about $2,000 this fiscal year, which began July 1, 2018 and ends June 30. Last spring’s beds were funded out of the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget.

At the last meeting council asked Utt to find already budgeted funds to cover the other half of the project costs. The beautification budget falls under the Streets Department, which is funded by Virginia Department of Transportation money. However, council did not want to use paving funds for landscaping.

Utt said at that time he believed there was enough unspent money in the salary fund for the Street Department to cover the cost. He noted there were unfilled vacancies in the department much of the year.

Tuesday, Utt confirmed that is the case. He said two positions have been vacant and are in the process of being filled. That gives the town a surplus of $67,000 in salaries that can be drawn upon. Even if the positions are filled this week, he noted, only about $21,000 of the surplus will be needed to cover the salaries through the end of the fiscal year.

Plus, he says, there will be insurance, withholding taxes and other funds that haven’t been paid due to the vacant positions. “So we have more money that’s going to likely end up in paving anyway,” he said.

He recommended the money come from the salary fund if council wished to “move forward on the whole kit and caboodle.”

Councilman Greg East said he feels it’s important to reiterate, “This isn’t just an expenditure for landscaping. It is a return on investment — a savings over about 2-1/2 years.”

Utt responded, “Yes. We have about $20,000 budgeted and I expect to be able to cut that to about $10,000 to $12,000 a year, so this will pay for itself quickly and we’ll be able to appreciate those savings the following years. This is a good return on investment when you get a less than three-year payback.”

However, Goodman questioned the accuracy of the payback estimate.

“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the public on this … they don’t believe it’s a two-and-a-half year payback. They feel like it’s more like five or six years,” he said.

Asked by Councilman Brooks Dawson what his response would be to that allegation, Utt said, “They don’t see the budget every day. I don’t want to sound terse, but at the end of the day you guys make me responsible for a $15 million budget to make sure it’s spent appropriately. With that, I have to understand where the money goes. We just spent several months understanding every line item.

“I have no doubt we’ll be able to continue on a positive track with an $8,000 to $10,000 budget as opposed to $20,000; especially if we’re replacing annuals with perennials that just need mulch and prettying up every year.” He noted they were spending every bit of $10,000 a year planting annuals and replacing dead plants.

He said he received two telephone calls regarding the proposal and the callers seem to understand when he explained “we’re budgeting $20,000 a year now and we’ll be able to budget $8,000 to $10,000 in future years.”

“If we spent $10,000 a year on stuff that we had to spend $10,000 to replace again the next year, in the last five years we’ve spent $50,000 and look at how much money we’re wasting,” Dawson said. “Every argument I’ve seen is that this is a saving measure. Explained properly I don’t know how that could be a negative.”

East said he thinks there’s a benefit that can’t really be defined in terms of dollars anyway. “It’s in the aesthetics and impression of people who come into the community,” he explained.

“This is all street money. It’s a finite amount of money and if we don’t spend it it’ll go back (to VDOT). So, I’m not lowering that $15 million budget by $10,000, but I’m able to pave $10,000 more,” Utt stressed. “In essence, you’re gaining more out of the budget than what you have in the past.”

Dawson said his only concern is the 24 other landscaping beds that the staff will have to bring into conformity with the professionally landscaped nine. Essentially, he said, “We’ll still be undone.”

Although council approved the spending of up to $36,000 on the nine beds, Utt pointed out they will hold off re-landscaping the beds that contain town signs, like the one on Route 11 near Pulaski Elementary School, until the new signs are installed. Otherwise the plants would have to be torn out and replaced.

The town is replacing its signage to conform to the new branding logos and color. They will match the sign it recently installed at the triangle where Third and Main streets merge. Funding for the new signs is to be discussed at council’s Feb. 19 work session.

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