Skip to main content

Independence, Iowa

Keywords: Grounds Maintenance, Competitive Bidding, Failed Contract

Grass Mowing

The Independence Mental Health Institute, a state-run hospital for the mentally ill in Independence, Iowa, has had as many as forty-one services contracted out at any given time. Grass mowing services were no exception, and a mid-sized, regional contractor was responsible for the service between 1990 and 1998.

When the contract for the mowing service went out to bid in the spring of 1998, AFSCME state workers put in their own bid against approximately twelve other service providers. AFSCME won the competition with a bid of $65,000, compared to the lowest private bid of $80,000.

Cost savings of nearly twenty percent were only one of many reasons why AFSCME workers were awarded the contract. The AFSCME proposal was attractive to state officials because bringing the service back in-house meant that the hospital had better control over how services were delivered. Cutting times could be coordinated with the needs of the facility, whereas the hospital had no control over when the private crews would come to mow the facilitys extensive lawns and recreation areas. For example, it was difficult for hospital staff to schedule outdoor activities for the residents because the ball fields and play areas were mowed at different times every week. The irregular schedule of the cutting crews meant that planned activities often had to be postponed or canceled.

Poor service from the private contractor was another reason why the service was brought back in-house. Operated largely by teenagers, the contractors machines had taken down trees, burned the grass, and bumped into buildings on several occasions.

This poor quality service was the main reason why the private contractor did not challenge AFSCMEs successful bid. If anything, the firm worried that the state would impose performance penalties for property damage they caused at the facility.

In order to win the contract, state employees had to re-engineer the way the mowing service was provided at the facility. Whereas before the facility employed three full-time employees year-round, the service is now provided by one full-time employee and three seasonal staff. More employees would certainly allow us to improve service quality, says Council 61 Representative Tom Anthony, but even with our limited staff the service has improved significantly since being brought back in-house.