If it’s too good to be true, it just might be.

The ongoing saga of whether the city of Taylor ought to outsource part of its mowing work took a turn last week when city staffers revealed that the savings was far short of what had been touted.

At the Jan. 12 meeting of the Taylor City Council, several people spoke about the controversial contract proposal. The proposal became controversial last summer when Black Stallion Lawn Care was the only qualified bidder for the work. Christine Lopez, a member of the city council, is an owner of the company. Though she followed the rules outlined to prevent a conflict of interest, other city council members objected.

Gary Gola had concerns about the accuracy of the numbers the city used when staffers proposed the idea. 

“On the surface that seemed like a good deal, and half of our council was ready to act,” he said in a post to his Facebook page.” The other half was more apprehensive and my guess is that they were concerned about this new report being handed to them just minutes before the meeting and without any supporting information.”

So Gola did some digging and asked city staffers to revisit the calculations behind the proposal. He discovered that the total savings projected was off by nearly $70,000. Instead of saving more than $82,000 by outsourcing part of the city’s mowing responsibilities, the savings was more like $15,000.

“I’m very disappointed the staff used the wrong assumptions,” said Taylor Mayor Jesse Ancira. “We can’t have those kinds of mistakes.”

According to a memo the city released late last week, the city staff accidentally based the savings on a draft document compiled by a former city employee. According to that memo, staff transitions “appear to have led to an incomplete dataset being used in the bid tabulation, which used costs with the misapplied methodology.”

Further, the draft document “… appears to have been used in its draft form as the basis for all materials that have been presented.” The memo further notes that a hard copy of the draft spreadsheet was included as part of a response to an open records requests.

“They used a wrong assumption and no one caught it,” said Ancira. “I’m disappointed, but it doesn’t tarnish my opinion of staff.”

He noted that the proposal was born out of an attempt to shift resources to street maintenance and repair.

“Remember, we charged the city manager to be innovate and to better utilize our resources. The object was to find a way to provide more to our streets. I’d vote the same way even it is only $15,000 because it frees up staff and management time and directs that toward our streets.”

He noted that the whole issue is moot. The council decided in January to not pursue the bid.

“I give all credit to everyone who challenged the city,” said Ancira. “Thanks for keeping us honest and transparent.”

Ancira, who holds the at-large seat on the council, chose not to seek reelection. Gola is running against Dwayne Ariola for that open seat. The election is in May.

This story has been edited to reflect the fact that Mr. Gola did not speak at the Jan. 12 city council meeting.

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