The Town of Castor’s 2023 capital expenses were again at the forefront of the most recent council meeting agenda.
During the Nov. 14 council meeting, a new lawn mower was again brought back to council for discussion, with a twist; Town of Castor Public Works director Arjan Van Hienen had been invited to the meeting to answer questions on the proposed purchase.
The town has three large, four-wheel-drive mowers that summer students use to complete all the mowing during the summer months. The oldest of the machines is approaching 20 years old, and with metal fatigue and general wear and tear, it needs to be replaced.
According to Van Hienen, a replacement through John Deere in Stettler costs just under $35,000.
“I talked to one of them about trading in the old one,” said Van Hienen.
“It was a little disappointing.”
Van Hienen noted that the old machine would get a trade-in credit of around $3,500.
Council questioned the need to purchase a replacement similar to what is already owned, at such a high cost, when commercial-grade zero-turn mowers are available at significantly less cost.
According to Van Heinen, and chief administrative officer Donna Rowland, there were two primary considerations when replacing the equipment, safety and capability.
“With our terrain and some of the hills, (zero-turn mowers) are not the solution for what we want,” said Van Hienen.
“Zero-turns have less stability on slopes and no option for four-wheel drive. They are a different kind of machine to operate … That’s something (the summer students) would have a hard time adjusting to.
“Every year we have new kids trying to learn (on the mowers).”
Council disagreed with Van Hienen’s explanation.
“Sorry Arjan, I have to disagree with you,” said Coun. Don Sisson.
“I spent two years working on (a zero-turn) machine and never felt unsafe.”
Mayor Richard Elhard agreed with Sisson, noting that he had a zero-turn mower for his farm property and it was capable of everything he needed it to do, including the hills.
“I have to agree with you, running the zero-turn,” said Coun. Kevin McDougall, who uses a similar machine regularly in his duties at Paintearth Regional Waste Management.
“I can’t justify the extra cost. It’s cheaper training the extra day than the extra expense.”
According to Elhard, a commercial-grade John Deere zero-turn mower can be purchased for a price of around $13,000.
Rowland did bring forward one other concern regarding the mower; the three existing mowers are all diesel engines, and a zero-turn mower would likely be gas. Rowland believes that there would be increased risks, and costs, of summer students erroneously putting the wrong fuel in the wrong machine if they are switching between them.
Rowland also noted that there is not another mower in the capital budget until 2028, and it is administration’s position that paying extra for a machine likely to last another two -decades would be worth it in the long run.
Finally, Rowland also noted, that if council chose to purchase a zero-turn mower instead of a four-wheel drive mower, the town’s service levels would drop as there are some areas, such as Pals Park, which only the four-wheel drive machines can service.
Council ultimately deferred the decision on the purchase to the Nov. 27 council meeting.