The county has implemented a beautification project for the 2012 landscaping season, which started Monday and continues through Oct. 1. Bill Shelton, Cobb DOT road maintenance division manager, said monthly prizes, such as gift cards, will be awarded for the crew that does the best overall in seven categories: grass, litter, curb and gutter, mulching, weeds in concrete, production and overall appearance.
The county used to spend $600,000 in annual right-of-way beautification contracts, but decided to use its own crews because of budget cuts. Shelton said residents noticed the difference last year.
“The grass — we couldn’t keep up with it,” he said. “We weren’t doing a lot of grass cutting because it’s an aesthetic issue, and we were concerned about safety issues.”
Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee said the idea for the contest came after a conversation he had with transportation director Faye DiMassimo.
“We were kicking around ideas, and we decided that making it a competition would make it fun and give some incentive,” he said.
The winning crew for the entire season will get a steak dinner, cooked personally by Lee and County Manager David Hankerson, while the other crews will get hot dogs and hamburgers.
Lee said the crews won’t be disappointed by their grilling skills.
“I’m pretty good,” Lee said. “David claims to be a master.”
Each crew is responsible for maintaining 23 miles of medians in one of Cobb’s four commission districts.
Each crew has three crew members to start the year, with a crew chief, equipment operator and a Cobb County Detention Center inmate. The county plans to hire a total of 14 seasonal workers to help out during times of heavy mowing.
Because of rules prohibiting the transportation department from giving inmates food, Shelton said they are not eligible for the prizes.
Roadway landscaping has been a target for budget cuts. Among the recommendations in the recent Citizen Oversight Committee report was to transfer road landscape maintenance to the county’s parks department.
While the county expressed concern about some of the oversight committee’s road landscaping recommendations, Lee said the county is looking at ways to use more xeriscaping, the practice of gardening in ways that require less irrigation than traditional landscaping.
“The easiest thing to do is to put concrete in, but you don’t want to do that,” he said. “So you look at the lowest maintenance option that can maintain an attractive appearance.”
So far, Shelton sees the incentives as giving the workers a bit more spring in their step.
“They’re taking a little more pride in their work,” he said. “They’re cleaning a little better. The overall appearance has improved.”