Trimming costs instead of grass
By PETER CATON
BUDGET restrictions on council sportsfield and parks maintenance have raised the prospect of a summer of long grass, snakes and the dangers of hidden syringes in Tweed's playing areas.
The restrictions have already led to a "review" of plans to employ more parks staff and grass growing higher than in recent years before it is cut.
The move, officially blamed on the return of good rainfall and a "strong growing season", has reportedly divided Tweed Shire Council staff and has outraged community leaders.
Murwillumbah and District Business Chamber president Phil Youngblutt has described the restrictions as unacceptable.
He warned they would lead to second-rate sportsfields as well as dangers including hidden needles discarded by illegal drug users and "even bloody snakes''.
Former mayor Warren Polglase said the image of the Tweed would suffer and called for a proportion of rates from new subdivisions to be directed to maintenance.
Only a week ago the Daily News revealed a 10-year-old boy faces months of anxiety waiting for medical tests after stepping on a syringe outside a toilet block in Murwillumbah's Knox Park.
The Daily News found the area in the park lit- tered with syringes.
The council's recreation services manager Stewart Brawley said a budget blowout caused by the June floods and an "unusual growing season" meant any new appointments were being reviewed, but the existing standard of maintenance would stay.
He said that meant the current, mostly fortnightly mowing was continuing at the same rate, even though the grass is growing quicker than it had in the last few, drier years.
Mr Brawley said he had warned foremen if the strong growing season continued, one option was to stop using specialist mowers which provide a high-quality cut because they could not handle longer grass.
He said no other councils were using the multi-bladed gang mowers.
Mr Youngblutt, a former shire councillor until the 2004 election and who contracts to the council to mow some public lawns, said he had been ''reliably informed" of planned cutbacks.
He said the cutbacks meant plans to hire new staff in the new year were axed and mowing of sportsfields and parks would be reduced.