A recommendation to hire a contractor to cut the grass at cemeteries in the township proved contentious at a Minden Hills council meeting June 13.

Director of community services, Candace McGuigan, put forth the hiring of The Lawn Squad at a cost of $45,000 plus HST, bringing the total to more than $50,000 for the season.

McGuigan said staff felt it was the only option after reaching out to other townships for shared services and finding that wasn’t an option.

“The township requires an immediate solution for the remainder of the 2024 cemetery lawn care and maintenance season,” McGuigan said, with an intention to re-tender for 2025.

She said the work is needed at 12 Mile, Minden Hills, Bethel, Gelert and Milburn cemeteries. She estimated total lawn cutting of 47.5 hours every other week from June 24 until Nov. 30, as well as fall clean up. She added they received three quotes, with The Lawn Squad charging $75-80-an-hour.

The decision would have come in over budget by more than $28,000, with the director recommending it come from surplus or reserves.

This did not sit well with Coun. Ivan Ingram.

“I have some real concerns with the numbers I’m getting here. It’s time to hire our own staff and have them look after the cemeteries.” He said they did so for 30 years “and it worked fine, not a problem, not a complaint.” He added one person could work the cemeteries for eight months and then go to the roads department for the other four months to do snow removal.

“It’s just too much money as far as I’m concerned when we can hire a full-time person to do it and use them in other places.”

CAO Cynthia Fletcher said staff were prepared to look at the option, “but the challenge we have right now is we have an immediate need. The community services department isn’t resourced with the equipment or the staff to take on an immediate need so that was why we were recommending an external service to get us through 2024.” She said they would come back with a report in the fall about the township doing the work. However, to recruit and get equipment would take time, “given the importance of the service,” she said.

Ingram replied they had a current staff person who used to do cemetery maintenance. Coun. Tammy McKelvey added she thought there was a mower at the sewage treatment plant.

Fletcher said council can move staff around, but it takes them away from other work, such as parks and trails.

Deputy mayor Lisa Schell said she wasn’t impressed by the numbers either, “but that’s what’s before us.” She agreed that next year they should look at the possibility of bringing the service in-house.

She said they have had issues for several years about how the cemeteries look and, “it is a very sensitive subject with the public.” She was prepared to accept the staff recommendation for this year, but not to tender for next year, and look to bring it in-house.

McKelvey said any contract could end in October, not November. She said she could not support taking $45,000 out of reserves for operations. “Reserves are never supposed to be used to cut grass.” She added if contracting out, she needs more administrative details. She said other issues include monuments, and graves collapsing, and a full-time person could help with these issues. Ingram wanted to defer a decision until the June 27 meeting and the majority of council concurred. Fletcher said staff will continue to maintain cemeteries until then.