Grass in medians and parks around Richmond is approaching a foot tall and higher, and city officials are telling residents they should not expect it to be cut anytime soon.
“We’re woefully behind,” said deputy chief administrator John Buturla, citing budget cuts that will be in effect until the new fiscal year starts in July. “We ask people to be patient. Between now and July 1, we’re really going to be in a critical situation.”
A schedule distributed by the Department of Public Works this week says most medians will be cut only once this mowing season and most parks will be cut only twice. That’s an estimated 112 days and 84 days between cuts, respectively.
Playgrounds, lawns around city buildings and Richmond Public Schools facilities will receive somewhat more attention. But Bobby Vincent, the department’s deputy director, said there’s no way he can meet what he referred to as an “acceptable public perception.”
Vincent said medians and parks in highly traveled areas and locations that host special events will be prioritized, meaning that some medians might see, for example, three cuts, while others may not be cut at all. A spokeswoman for the department, Sharon R. North, declined to provide the city’s priority schedule Tuesday.
Residents are already taking notice. Richmond City Council members said Monday that they have been inundated with calls from their constituents complaining about the city’s appearance.
“This city looks like hell all over,” said Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell.
Buturla noted that rain over the past week has not helped the situation. But he attributed the problem to the council’s decision last year to cut $9 million in funding for vacant positions across city departments to increase the Richmond Public Schools’ operating budget. That included $2.7 million cut from public works, which had historically been used to hire temporary seasonal help to assist with grounds maintenance.
That’s left the city with 21 employees cutting grass, less than half the number of workers typically assigned, according to Vincent.
“(The City Council) took bold steps in order to provide funding for schools,” Buturla said. “We understand that. We’re living within our means.”
Vincent said the situation should improve in July, when additional funds will become available with the beginning of the new fiscal year, for which the City Council already agreed to provide a $300,000 boost to the department.
On Tuesday, the medians of Semmes Avenue and Westover Hills Boulevard had grown to more than a foot in some portions, while grass had climbed to nearly 2 feet at the western end of Monument Avenue.
At Battery Park in North Side, residents said the grass has not been cut this season, though they had different thoughts on the situation.
“Usually, they cut it before Mother’s Day at least, but money’s tight and they need it in the schools anyway,” said Linda Jones, who has lived across the street from the park since 1970. “There’s no need to complain. It’s been raining for what, weeks? No need to make a brand-new issue out of something that’s not.”
Bishop Robinson, who also lives across from the park, was less forgiving. He noted the irony that the City Council voted in January to increase penalties for residents who let their grass grow to more than a foot. The council advanced the changes to make it easier for city code inspectors to address blighted properties.
“If my grass was that high, they’d charge me $200,” he said. “If they’re going to charge me $200, they need to get their grass cut.”
Buturla and Vincent said a number of community groups have contacted the city to offer assistance keeping facilities maintained.
They said the city is open to the offers but that they need to be arranged through the Green City Commission coordinator, Darlene Mallory, who can be contacted at (804) 646-8325.
“People who want to help and assist can do it in a safe manner,” Vincent said. “But we can’t just have people in the median with a push mower cutting grass.”