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Paying flower bill, maintaining pots leads to tense moments

Swift County Monitor - Staff Photo - Create Article
Flower pots have decorated city streets since 2018 and have been considered a way of attracting people to the community.

By Reed Anfinson
There was a moment of stunned silence at Monday night’s Benson City Council meeting followed by outrage among the more than a dozen people in the audience.
Benson’s council had just voted 3 to 2 to not pay the bill presented to the city by the Flower Basket for the flowers placed in the large pots throughout the business areas of the community and the plants hanging from light posts.
Flower Basket charged the city $3,796 for the flowers and potting soil placed in 55 large pots and 52 hanging plants.
City Manager Kyle Harris had placed the bill on the council’s agenda after some members of the council had raised questions about it.
After additional debate, a second motion identical to the first was made and unanimously approved by the council but it left hanging what the future of watering the plants would be in the coming days.
Harris pointed out that the council approved $15,000 for the plants in its 2024 budget, which had received unanimous approval prior to the start of the new fiscal year Jan. 1. It was under a line item in the budget for beautifying Benson.
“What is it going to cost to water the flowers?” Council Member Chris Carruth asked. Council Member Nancy Maanum also wanted an answer to the question.
Benson’s current city staff can’t handle the job of watering the plants daily, Harris said. Staff at the Flower Basket were asked if they could take on the responsibility, which it was assumed would cost about $10,000.
However, City Attorney Steven Kowal pointed out that there is an issue with hiring someone to do city work and let them use city equipment; in the state’s eyes, those people could be seen as city employees. One of the standards for separation between a city contractor and a city employee is the use of city equipment, Harris said.
For the time being, the city hired two people from the Flower Basket to water the plants at an hourly rate of $14 each, he explained. The work was estimated to take 3 to 3.5 hours per time, with one person driving and the other watering the plants.
It was estimated that watering the plants only during weekdays would cost about $6,000, and adding weekends would increase it to between $7,000 to $7,500, Harris said. That takes the plant watering through Labor Day. Employing Flower Basket staff as temporary city employees is a savings of $2,500 to $3,000 over contracting for the service, he said.
This allows them to use the city truck and watering equipment without any legal issues, Harris told the council.
Watering the flowers and their purchase comes to a total cost of $10,796 to $11,296 depending on weekend watering.
“Do you have any idea of how much it costs us to set out the flowers as a city crew?” Carruth asked
In figuring out the cost, the city used the dollar value it sets for the rental of its equipment. For example, use of the city’s bucket truck and his crew is charged out at $90 an hour plus over $100 for the truck, Harris said.
“There is really no good way to say that it costs us that much to use for three hours, so that is why we use the rates…” set by resolution by the council at the start of the year, he said.
When it comes to setting out the pots and bringing them in, the cost is between $5,000 and $10,000, he estimated.
“Is that about what it costs us when we put the flags out for Flag Day because we use the same bucket truck and the same number of guys?” Mayor Jack Evenson asked. The city also puts the flags out and takes them down for Memorial Day and July 4, he pointed out. “Do we figure out the costs of our own labor to do those?”
“We don’t even budget that,” Evenson, who supports the city’s flower program, said.
Carruth said that when all the costs are added up for the flowers, it is over the $15,000 budgeted by the council.
Evenson questioned the cost of putting out the pots and collecting them and pointed out the wide range of $5,000 to $10,000.
“The problem I have is spending all this money on flowers,” Carruth said. He said he walked through the Ambush Park back trails, and there are two park benches out there that are overgrown with weeds. “I wish we could put more effort into our parks and cemeteries,” he said.
That is why the city hired the employees of the Flower Basket to water the flowers, Evenson replied. That allows the park staff to do what they are supposed to, he added.

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