Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News
Since the City of Dallas started using private contractors to keep city parks clean, residents say they have seen an improvement, but city leaders say those workers should have health insurance.
A Dallas councilman says city contractors such as the ones maintaining city parks should offer their employees health insurance.
After years of deep budget cuts, Dallas park workers had trouble keeping up with trash and high grass. City leaders told park officials to find ways to do more without the jobs that were left vacant during the belt-tightening, so officials reorganized their operations and looked to outside contractors.
This year, contractors took over litter collection at parks and much of the mowing.
"The contractor can focus on the more nonskilled work," Assistant Parks Director John Jenkins said. "We can redeploy our city resources to focus on the more skilled labor, the detail work in the park."
Good Earth Inc., which mows nearly 100 Dallas parks and collects litter in all of them, received a $2.4 million contract in April for three years of park maintenance.
"According to our contract, we were able to win the contract and do it less costly," said Kevin Points, operations manager.
The company also has three-year city of Dallas contracts for $525,635 to maintain water utilities grounds and $4.5 million to maintain street medians, rights of way, vacant lots and residential properties.
Points said his goal is to show the city that Good Earth can do the work better and cheaper than city workers can.
"We'd like to take it all," he said.
But his firm does not provide worker health insurance and other benefits that the city provides to its workers.
"Our expenses and overhead are probably less than theirs," Points said.
Jenkins said contractors are not required to provide health coverage for workers.
"Our only goal is to make sure they perform the work at the same level that we performed it, if not better," he said.
But Councilman Dwaine Caraway said contractors should be required to offer health insurance.
"I don't want to be one that's going to save money on the backs of people giving up their health care just so that we can save money," he said.
Caraway said he would ask for health insurance to be a requirement in future city maintenance contracts.
"Even though we're saving money on one end, and the parks look good, it's still our responsibility to make sure there's health care, for even those employees of the contractors we're putting out there," he said.