Mayor Keith Gaskin has some questions about whose responsibility it is to mow right-of-ways along the Highway 82 corridor.
During Thursday’s work session, Gaskin told the council he had discovered the city had been mowing Mississippi Department of Transportation rights of way for years, and yet it was unclear whether the state was paying for the work.
Gaskin said the city contracted with MDOT in 2013 to mow along the Highway 82 corridor, from the welcome sign west of the city up to the exit at Love’s truck stop. The state was supposed to pay the city, but it’s unclear whether that happened.
Gaskin said he thought the city was mowing more than just the 82 corridor.
“It’s all the areas coming into Columbus,” he said. “There’s areas on Highway 69 as well. I was stunned at how much the city’s cutting.”
The original agreement was for one year, but it automatically renewed for four years, Gaskin said. The state was supposed to pay the city $11,217 a year.
“We have no idea how many (invoices) have been paid,” Gaskin said, and added that the city had not been paid “for quite some time.”
In a Friday phone call with The Dispatch, Gaskin said questions arose early in his administration when he and then interim Chief Operations Officer Mark Alexander, Jr., were looking at the budget for Public Works.
“We were looking at their budget and the needs there and all those things,” Gaskin said. “We were looking to see what we were getting from MDOT…Nobody knew that we weren’t getting paid. How does this happen?”
Gaskin said MDOT representatives told him that the contract with the city expired in 2018 because neither party was interested in renewing it.
“They said there was no interest in renewing, but who made that decision?” Gaskin said.
Gaskin said he told Public Works to stop mowing the MDOT right-of-way for now.
“I told them to stop and concentrate on the city,” he said. “People think Public Works isn’t out in the wards because they’re out there working on the state right-of-way.”
Johnny Shields, district maintenance engineer at MDOT, said he couldn’t address the payment issue, but confirmed that an agreement for mowing did exist and that it expired in 2018. The state had similar contracts with other municipalities.
“The determination by the department has been that we would not review those contracts with the municipalities that have been terminated,” Shields said. “We have a contract mower that mows along (Highway 82).”
He said an agreement to mow on MDOT’s behalf along Highway 69 “did not ring a bell” and the agreement was for Highway 82 only.
The contractor doesn’t mow right-of-way if the grass is below a certain height, Shields explained.
“A bush hog is only going to clip it about six inches above the ground,” he said. “A lot of cities use zero-turn mowers, because they want it close, like you mow your yard…If it’s already mowed lower than what the bush hogs will cut, they’re just moving on.”
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.
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