Sometimes a bottom line is more deceptive than it looks. With that in mind, a 4-1 majority of the Flagler County Commission, led by Commissioner Barbara Revels, on Monday rejected an administration proposal to privatize the county’s janitorial services, even though it projected a “saving” of $173,000.
The reason for the rejection, which combined the more liberal voices of Revels and George Hanns with the more conservative voices of Charlie Ericksen and Frank Meeker: commissioners were not willing to see 10 or 11 of the county’s 13 janitors lose their job outright, while whichever smaller number of employees were to be hired by the private contractor would get a 50 cents an hour raise but lose all benefits.
“These are the lowest-paid employees that we have,” Revels said, “I’m not sure whether that’s a living wage they earn, and we know that if they’re going to be re-employed through the contractor—that of course is going to make a profit on this, and is saving us supposedly $176,000 a year—that these are citizens of ours that will not have benefits, most likely, that they have today. I think the cost to our county and our society is worsened by them losing a job that might pay more and have benefits. I’m going to be very opposed to passing this even though pulling it out of our budget would be very difficult at this time.”
Revels’s ability to win a reversal on the matter was especially notable as the item had been placed on the commission’s consent agenda–the repository of done deals that the commission votes on in bulk, without discussion. Revels asked that the item be pulled from the consent agenda, and initiated the discussion that led to the reversal.
Commissioner Charlie Ericksen was especially concerned about the loss of benefits, saying he’d imagine an employee being willing to take lesser pay as long as benefits were generous. “Is there any agreement that they’re going to have similar benefits or was it just an assumption that they were going to just walk over to the other side of the fence and be employed?” he asked.
“There’s no guarantee, as I read it,” Meeker said.
In an attempt to save money the county proposed privatizing its janitorial services and got four companies to bid on the contract. American Janitorial, an Illinois-based company that franchises its name, won the two-year contract—at least in the bidding phase—through its Florida variant, a company based in Umaitlla, in Lake County, and owned by Jordan Dailey. It was incorporated three years ago. The contract calls for an annual cost of either $458,000 or $499,000.
“We have a tremendous amount of turnover in these positions,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said. “It is a constant management issue. We’re constantly advertising, doing background checks and trying to fill these positions only to have a lot of them turnover. We’ve done this on several other areas. We’ve done this with landscaping, we’ve done this—I’m trying to think of other areas. We’ve done it before.”
“The cost to our county and our society is worsened by them losing a job that might pay more and have benefits.”
He couldn’t think of another recently privatized contract. Palm Coast privatized its janitorial services only to end it and bring the service back in-house. Two years ago the Volusia County School Board privatized its janitorial services in an $11.5 million contract, only to contend with a dramatic drop in quality as teachers, then administrators, complained of dirty classrooms, poorly supplied toilets and dissatisfied faculty.
“The goal,” Coffey said, “was to outsource this, and we were going to hire a new construction crew to catch up with other projects we’re facing and challenges because we get complaints about the way we’re maintaining buildings and the way we’re upkeeping this or upkeeping that. I’m trying to stretch dollars any way we can, so that was the genesis of this.”
The county has 15 custodians. Two of them are considered head custodians: one makes $26,400 a year, the other $23,000 a year. One custodian is part-time. The rest all make $20,000 a year or less, or $9.47 an hour.
The head custodians were hired in 2007 and 2010. Of the remaining custodians, the longest-serving employee—the part-timer–was hired in 1998. Among the full-timers, one was hired in 2008, one in 2012, three were hired in 2013, five were hired in 21014, and two were hired this year (in February and March).
Dailey, the American Janitorial president, was asked how he realized his savings. “We trim the fat,” he said, but he didn’t say precisely how costs are cut. When costs are cut as significantly as American Janitorial is proposing, it’s usually for two reasons, particularly in janitorial services, where there’s little “fat” to start with: fewer employees, poorer benefits. Dailey didn’t speak about the number of employees he’d have on the ground, other than saying there’d be a supervisor and a project manager—in addition to overhead staff at the Umatilla office—which nets several positions that draw income, but don’t necessarily clean bathrooms as Flagler’s existing staff of janitors actually do. And much of that income would be p[aid to out-of-county administrators.
“We don’t have the ability to give near the benefits package that you guys have,” Dailey told the commissioners. Revels asked him to be more precise.
The company will, in fact, offer no benefits at all. “Other than higher pay and being able to make more money, not really,” Dailey said.
Coffey said 10 of the 13 would lose their job, though the company said it would make it a priority to rehire some of them. Those who’d lose their job would have two months’ pay in severance, and four months on the county’s health plan.
Hanns said he’s never been sold on privatization, and in this case, not just out of sympathy. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve seen so many people come in and say I can do a better job,” Hanns said. “If we can afford someone oversee different things, that same person can oversee our employees and find out what we’re doing wrong, because if there’s a lot of turnover, people aren’t happy, and you have to look out for your family.”
Meeker during the discussion sounded in favor of the contract: “Do you want to run government like a business, or do you want to run it like a family business? In my view, I’m looking at it like a business,” he said. Yet he ended up voting with the majority to oppose the contract.
Four individuals addressed the board on the matter, only one of them, Jack Carrell, the Palm Coast resident who makes a point of attending every county and city meeting, in favor of privatization: “From what I understand, we’re now becoming a welfare organization,” he said. “We’re no longer care about our budget, we just care about the people, even though you have a big turnover. You’re still going to wonder about that. So I don’t see why you just don’t turn it over to private industry.”
Jane Gentile-Youd, the Realtor, called it “chutzpah” and “a disgrace” for the county to so much as put the matter on the agenda: “I can’t believe I’m listening to a county manager who got himself a pay raise, who just spent $25,000 a year more to give a landscaping contract to a company that’s going to take care of tax-free property that doesn’t produce any revenue, to a company that has out of state interests,” she said. “So these guys are going to get these people to go for 50 cents more an hour with no benefits? If you guys believe in Santa Claus, you vote for this contract. If you believe in the people of Flagler County, you turn it down.”
Only Commissioner Nate McLaughlin voted against Revels’s motion to turn down the privatization initiative.
Meeker had one request for Coffey: “Come back and show us where you’re going to come up with $174,000 by the next budget workshop.”
Sherry E says
Great job county commissioners! Very Well Done!
It’s just so wonderful to read about that rare decision based on what is best for our hard working citizens and the quality of services they provide instead of the bottom line.
Wonderful to see our local politicians actually looking at the people that have to live with the decisions they make!
Wonderful to see our local politicians afraid to make the difficult decisions and keep spending our money when their is a cheaper alternative. Typical……
Good call Commissioners, particularly Commissioner Revels. The people who will keep their jobs and benefits are our neighbors. All the commission decisions can’t rest on compassion, but it’s good that it’s kept in mind.
David S says
Excellent job county commissioners !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jim Wjamesjames wjames whim w says
Trim the fat at the top not the bottom. Tell Coffey to give up 10 percent of his pay.
Sherry E says
To all those who are shortsighted enough that you only care about really measly tax cuts over jobs for those that really, really need them. . . what if the job/benefits on the chopping block were for your family/friends? Did you even read the part about the poor quality of services being provided by these private janitorial firms in our neighboring counties?
So many people complain rudely and loudly about those struggling and needing Welfare/Food Stamps. . . yet they are often the same people who would, without a second thought, take away the jobs for those who are working hard to do what they can to live without those benefits.
Please do enlighten us. . . the people who would loose their jobs/benefits. . . what exactly would you prefer they do? Would you prefer to support them on Welfare? Oh, and by the way, going back to Africa or Mexico is NOT an option. . .
Please do reply with your “perfect” solution . . .
Outsourcing these jobs is the way to go like other county does it. Revels is wrong again. She is not business
Why stop at or why jump on the janitors, the lowest on the pole.
Do like the city of Weston Florida and outsource most all of the county functions.
Weston has less the 50 employees on its payroll.
Now that is a well managed government.
Same goes for the city of Palm Coast.
Outsourcing these jobs leaves the benefits package up to the individual and not the taxpayers. Most companies no longer give these benefits because they cannot afford them. The bill is coming due to the taxpayers and the result will be the same. More must be responsible for their own retirement savings. We have reached the point where municipal employees receive better benefits than those paying for them. That’s not progress.
They chose less pay for better benefits so now you want to hose them out that when they have served a career?
wishful thinking says
Some more ‘between-the lines’ facts to consider before bashing the 4 commissioners who voted NO to outsourcing:
Another effort by the Administration to shirk their own responsibilities
Adding another( and unnecessary middleman ) who is going to PROFIT at the expense of our current citizens is NOT should be enough to realize that our county administrator can’t seem to ‘manage” the day to day county operations.
What’s next on his out source list ? Funny he can’t manage to keep janitorial personnel but was able to negotiate a $5million plus deal for a decrepit water utility….
This is twice in a row that Commissioner McLaughlin voted to give our tax money to foreign ( not Florida) corporations – so don’t thank him. Kudos to Barbara Revels this time and to Frank Meeker for listening and changing his mind instead of being pig-headed.
Hell hath frozen over!
I agree with Jane Gentile-Youd. Finally, good job commissioners, you did the right thing.
Crusty old Salt says
Mr. Ericksen raised a good point regarding the providing of health insurance by the County for these low paying jobs. As we all know, he went through some serious health issues and certainly good health insurance played a role in his recovery. Mr. Meeker is also facing some serious health issues and hopefully the County Health Insurance will also provide a very positive outcome in what he is facing.
To let these low paying people go and then they have no assurance of even getting a job, much less one with health benefits is unconscionable. Mr. Mclaughlin should be ashamed of his vote!
Mr. McLaughlin, while I hope you are never faced with a life threatening illness as Mr. Eriksen or Mr. Meeker, hopefully if you are, you will have good health benefits. I also hope you reflect back at your decision yesterday and realize sometime quality of life trumps the savings of $170,000 to these dozen or so individuals. Cut the fat at the top, not the bottom.
lena Marshal says
I used to like Mr. Coffey , not now!
He needs to come up with a better plan to save money than this one.
What a bad decision by the commissioners. Your duty is not a social service one, but managing the tax payer’s money the best way. And that should mean lowering the pay of many of the high raking position that really don’t do much as employees!!