Council ‘caught out’ by growing grass

The frequency of grass cuts in rural cemeteries is to be increased after councillors admitted being “caught out” by the recent balmy weather.

A mild May saw increased grass growth making many graveyards unsightly. But the council’s DGFirst management committee agreed at a meeting on Tuesday to double the number of cuts in cemeteries affected to around once a month after a contingency fund of £60,000 was set aside.

Leader of the council Ronnie Nicholson said this week that this time last year grass had hardly started to grow much due to the poor weather and the council had been caught out this year due to the milder winter.

He said: “When councillors set the budget we expressed concerns at the impact of a possible overall saving in ground and public open space maintenance of £260,000.

“That’s why we proposed reducing the saving allowing the department to keep a contingency fund of £60,000 to deal with circumstances exactly like this”.

However, the council leader has warned that local residents need to “wake up” to the scale of the financial challenges facing the council over the next few years.

He added: “Over the next three years the council needs to make savings of £27 million as a result of government cuts and that is on top of the £30 million that has been slashed from our budget over the past three years.

“Frankly, it’s a remarkable achievement that so far this has been achieved without more complaints and that’s a testimony to the hard work of council staff who continue to provide a high level of customer service.“

Councillor Stephen Thompson, chairman of DGFirst, said: “Taking into account concerns raised by communities during what has been an exceptional season for grass growth, our committee agreed to increase the schedule of grass cuts in cemeteries that represent less than 2% of use across Dumfries and Galloway.

“So, for the remainder of this grass growing season, we will now cut the grass once a month rather than the previously agreed schedule of three cuts a year. By using the £60k contingency that was included in the budget, we can respond to community concerns and still achieve our budget savings target.

“It’s absolutely essential that we prioritise where we need to spend money and where we can save money.

“Our grounds maintenance team is keen to work with community councils across the region to explore how best to achieve savings where there may be alternative ground maintenance options.”