City of Burnsville tree sale raises questions about use of city staff time and dollars


If you’d like to replace a few trees, shrubs and plants in your yard, you may be interested in attending the City of Burnsville annual tree, shrub and plant sale on April 28. 
When I saw the press release about the event, the red flags began to fly as if caught in a summer storm. What ever good deal you get, understand it comes at a hidden price. 
Upfront, I’ll tell you I don’t think the city should be selling “products” in direct competition with retailers.
So, I had lots of questions. I have to compliment David Grommesch, city forester, for responding to my inquiring e-mail so quickly — and with a phone call, no less. Here are the questions I asked and his responses:

Question: Where do the trees, shrubs and other greenery for the sale come from? 
AnswerCross Nurseries of Lakeville.

Question: How did you choose to buy from Cross?
Answer: Just from flipping through catalogs. They have a good selection of trees that are suitable for here.
Question: So you don’t seek bids from different suppliers for the products?
Answer: No
Question: Is this a fundraiser for the city?
Answer: No, we sell them at cost. It’s a way to get trees planted in the city. We’ve been doing this for about 25 years. Several cities do this. I think Burnsville was the first, though.
Question: So, do you have a budget when you go shopping for the plant sale?
Answer: It’s about $14,000.
Question: Do you break even on the sale?
Answer: We try to break even – we get close to it. Nothing goes to waste; leftover trees are planted in the city parks.
ME to MYSELF: (Ummm, I wonder if the city keeps a tally on the cost associated with employee work hours used on this event.)
Question: I bet this is a popular event?
Answer: Oh yes, we start at 7:30 but there’s people in line by 6 p.m. wanting to get first choice.

So what do you think? 

• Should the city be selling products, rather than encouraging people to make their purchases at local retailers?
• If the city is NOT breaking even on the event, then the homeowners’ purchases are being subsidized by the taxpayer. Is that OK with you?