'No money': Dismay as DCC trims back grass-cutting

An octogenarian is struggling to understand the Dunedin City Council’s priorities as the grass on the verge near her home has grown out of control.

Ngaire Sutherland, 80, said long grass on the verge next to the stairs up the hill in Hereford St, Roslyn, was a fire hazard — and at first she thought the council’s maintenance crew would come back to finish the job.

She then learnt it was a budgetary issue.

"I thought their equipment must have broken down and they left the middle.

"They cut right round the edges where the drain goes down . . . and they left the rest and never came back.

"They tell me there’s no money ... no money to do it."

Some light was shed on the matter after her neighbour wrote to the council and received a response from a staff member last week.

The neighbour was informed the council was responding to the "increasing number of complaints" after a change to grass-cutting service levels due to a "budget issue".

The grass in Hereford St was formerly cut once every four to six weeks; now though, it would be cut about every eight weeks.

In some places, verges were not being cut fully but only around the perimeter.

"What you are seeing, without communications to the community, is a result of a budget constraint," the letter said.

Local residents (from left) Robyn Austin, Bernice Hutchison and Ngaire Sutherland survey a long...
Local residents (from left) Robyn Austin, Bernice Hutchison and Ngaire Sutherland survey a long strip of grass which the Dunedin City Council appears to have stopped mowing. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
For the first three years of the present contract term, there had been an overspend, "reflecting where the budget needs to be to hold current levels of service".

Now, to meet the budget, the level of service had to be reduced.

The new reduced level of service was due to a "council directive" and the situation in Hereford St would be playing out across the city, the council staff member said.

"I would like to think the senior team are made aware of the complaints being received, so they understand the impact on the maintenance team.

"My hands are tied with regards to this and the team hope the budget is reviewed for [the] 2024-25 financial year or else we will continue to have these challenges."

Yesterday, a council spokesman said the changes introduced to the city’s roadside grass maintenance were designed to reduce costs at a time of significant budget pressures.

Like other councils, Dunedin was facing escalating costs "in a range of areas" and the transport department (which includes roadside grass maintenance) was over budget, the spokesman said.

"We’re working hard to find savings where we can," the spokesman said.

"This savings drive is also part of a broader conversation we’ll be having with our community, in more detail, as part of the nine-year plan process, as we strive to deliver safety and amenity in an affordable way."

The council also addressed the issue on social media last week, it said it had changed how often it mowed the grass in some parts of the city.

In other areas it was now only mowing the outer edges of longer grass.

"This saves money by reducing unnecessary mowing, but it’s also great for our friends the bees and all the other pollinating critters out there," it said.

"Our contractors are still working to a regular mowing schedule, just reduced a bit in places, and of course the weather can always cause issues!

"We’ll continue to focus on safety and if you spot any areas of concern, please feel free to get in touch with us."