Anne Furr, Executive Director for the Lakeland Downtown Development Association, commiserates with those who hate to see the gardens go, but she is upbeat, “The whole idea is we’re trying to be efficient — getting a bang for the buck. We still have a beautiful streetscape in Lakeland and we need to be proud of that.”
She added, “This is one of those budget crunches we can’t seem to work out. Given some time we’ll have them back to better than it was.” Furr’s organization started the container garden program in 2002 and has shared the upkeep costs. Furr said the cost for the 371 gardens last fiscal year was approximately $91,000. She said the LDDA put up $71,300 and the city’s parks and recreation department covered the rest of the costs. She said neither the city nor the LDDA had available money to fund all 371 container gardens for 2011/2012. Instead the city came up with $50,000 to cover 100 container gardens.
Math fans will quickly ask how the cost per container rose to $500 from $246.09. Furr explained efficiency was lost when the city chose to maintain only 100 container gardens, “You still have the cost of labor and the truck.” There are cost savings though. Furr added that some of the saved container gardens are hooked into Lakeland’s drip irrigation system and won’t require special watering. Combining that system with moving the remaining gardens to street corners, would allow the city to eventually use a smaller, less expensive, water tank to service the remaining 100.
Furr cautioned against using past history to gauge a cost for future container garden maintenance. She pointed out that the city must use forklifts to move some gardens to city garages before major storms. In the event of freezes, the city must wrap many gardens in cloth. Both are considerable expenses in man-hours.
The city isn’t losing the 271 gardens and their contents. Furr said, “A lot of the plants will be used in other places. They won’t be damaged (during the move).” She added that the city will clean, sterilize, and store the empty container gardens to have them available to replace damaged ones.
Furr said the city will reevaluate actual costs in six months to determine if the city could afford to return some of the gardens to the streetscape. She remembered that the original 2002 pilot project placed 66 gardens on Kentucky Avenue. She said the current streetscape of pavers, attractive lamps, and garbage cans is a vast improvement over the downtown streets of the 1980s.
Furr wanted to remind Lakelanders that the removal of the gardens is only a temporary pause in the changes occurring downtown, “We need to remember we still have a quaint, special downtown.”