Councilmember questions downtown planting coming from city budget


At the Hastings Council meeting on April 1, much discussion sprouted up about who should be paying to take care of the the downtown planters and hanging baskets. The city received bids from Precision Landscaping & Construction and Green Companies to plant and maintain the containers and baskets that beautify Second Street and outside the Hastings City Hall building. Green Companies won the bid for planting and maintaining all of the ground level planters and purchasing, installing and maintaining hanging flower baskets and changing to winter décor in late fall/early winter. The estimated cost for services includes installation of baskets, $2,625; winter décor pots including labor and material, $5,720; spring ground pot planting includes materials and labor, $6,290; weekly watering cost of $420 assuming a 16-week season, $6,720; total bid $20,715.
Councilperson Leifeld opened up discussion on this agenda item, questioning why the city should be responsible for this expense. She sees the value and beauty of the plantings but wondered if other organizations might step up to do the planting and maintenance.
“Beautification of the downtown,” said Leifeld, “Absolutely. I support it. However, I also understand that $21,000 goes a long way in regard to other things. I just want to make sure that everybody before we vote on this to move it forward, has their questions answered.”
Councilmember Jen Fox offered her view of the situation, “I don't disagree. However, the city put the pots on the corner. We could remove them and just not have planters. The other option is that the Parks Department does the planting and the watering weekly, which might cost more than this, depending on where we get the flowers, how often the employee is watering and taking care of it and changing the scenery for the holidays. So, if we want to look into that, that is an option as well or we could look into removing the planters and not putting up hanging pots. I can get behind that idea as well. If it is not contracted out, it needs to be the city's responsibility. And that's where the crops came in, I believe, a long time ago where we didn't have the bandwidth to do the planting and the watering from the city perspective.”
Newcomer to the council DawnMarie Vihrachoff stated, “I just wanted to thank councilmember Leifeld for offering this up for more discussion, I think as anybody knows that I have lots of questions and all of you have been very, very helpful. Dan [City Adminstrator Dan Wietecha] and I talked about this exact issue this morning, as somebody that lives on the east side of town and passes through this area a minimum of probably six times a day, I would say the beautification efforts with these hanging baskets with flowers are beautiful. And I do think that they add an enormous amount to folks that are coming over and shopping and visiting and utilizing all our downtown resources. When Dan and I spoke this morning, my question really wasn't so much over the price, but more the process for bids and how those come in, and specifically and this can be for another day but if the Council or the city has an eye towards diversity inclusivity equity issues when we are considering potential bids from businesses. So, for me… I understand that it's $21,000. I understand that could go a long way. I do think that it is going a long way. I think this is an enormous difference to our downtown area. Thank you.”
Fox mentioned that the greenery adds to the city’s placemaking and that is important for a city to be seen and valued and that more plantings could possibly be added near Vermillion Street. Leifeld once again agreed that 2nd Street is beautiful but still questioned whether the city should be responsible for all the expenses.
“I just don't like it being the city's responsibility, all of it necessarily,” Leifeld stated. “That's my thought on it. And I don't know what all happened because COVID hit and things kind of stopped a bit in regard to this conversation. But we were talking about it often for a few years, right after we finished with the Riverfront Renaissance. Have we looked at anything regarding any sort of partnership with the school and with the Horticulture Department? I mean, I get it, things cost money, and these businesses should make money for what they're doing. I'm not saying give us free plants, but the high school might be able to do something like that.
“When I look at the bill, the cost to water is only $380. That's not the big number there. That costs for the hanging baskets $2,600, that's not the big cost. The big cost is the winter decor pots of $5,700, the spring pot planting of $6,200. We're talking $11,000 just to get the plants in pots, right? Is there anything we could do thinking outside of the box or outside of the planter? Where we could talk to the Hastings gardening club, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Cub Scouts, the horticulture department, is there anything we could look at with that? Because I know it all started with who's going to water the plants, that was the big conversation is who's going to water these plants. We could do an adopt the planter.”
Vihrachoff agreed with the idea of asking for volunteer groups to handle this project if possible. She noted that, “My day job is actually in Northfield, and one of the points of pride for downtown Northfield is their big, beautiful, gigantic hanging plants that are completely maintained by their local gardening community and not by the city. So that point being made, I would support also asking the city if there's any research or anything that could be done in terms of that. Again, I don't want to make extra work for any incredibly hardworking and dedicated city staff. I would be happy to reach out to any contacts that I have to ask around as well.”
Mayor Fasbender respectfully weighed in, “First of all, we don't have a garden club. We haven't had one for years. We used to and at the time it did help. They were very helpful. If you remember the old bridge, we had much greenery on the bridge sites and they weeded it, I mean they did a lot, but we no longer have one. I love the idea of trying to save money and thinking out of the box. To be honest, I think it's a little too late right now into this season. Baskets and plants go up literally in a month. You know, maybe it's something we can pass this year but look for different things for next year.”
The motion to accept the Green Companies bid was made by Leifeld and approved by all. It was stated that next year’s planting and maintenance will be reviewed for other options.
The agreement for Precision Landscaping and Construction to maintain the Hwy 61 median at the estimated cost of $12,909.68 was discussed in less detail and approved.