September 20, 2014

Elyria
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County to seek bids for cleaning services

ELYRIA — The Lorain County commissioners voted Wednesday to seek proposals from private cleaning companies to take over custodial duties at county buildings.

Whether it will save money over the current eight custodians the county pays to handle cleaning responsibilities remains a question. County Administrator Jim Cordes estimated that the custodians earn an average of about $23,000 annually plus benefits and other costs.

He estimated the eight workers probably cost the county $360,000 per year.

Commissioner Ted Kalo said he’s willing to look at the idea, first proposed by Commissioner Tom Williams, but isn’t necessarily sold on it.

“Unless it’s a significant difference, I don’t see us eliminating the last eight custodial workers,” Kalo said.

Williams said it’s not just about how much money the county could save. He said a private company may be able to offer more services.

The county has seen its cleaning work force dwindle in recent years due to layoffs and attrition, which has left some county workers and elected officials responsible for their own cleaning.

Williams also said he would encourage the union representing the county’s custodians and maintenance workers to reopen contract negotiations to see if they could take pay cuts, give up benefits or otherwise reduce their costs to make keeping them more financially attractive.

Jeff Blackstone, the president of the union, said his members haven’t had a raise in years and agreed to another two-year pay freeze in their last contract.

“I don’t know how much more we can give them, I really don’t,” he said.

If it is cheaper to hire private cleaners, Williams said he would encourage the company that wins the contract to hire the laid-off county workers to fill the jobs cleaning the county buildings.

Blackstone said he doubts a private company would offer the same pay and benefits that the workers now have.

“People have got to live, and how are you going to provide for your family for $8 an hour?” he said.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski, who has expressed concern over security in county buildings by hiring unknown workers, said the current employees do a fine job.

“I’d really hate to be giving up some solid employees we have now,” she said.

In other business, Williams gave up his efforts to convince his fellow commissioners to cut the county mileage rate of 51 cents per mile to 37 cents per mile. He has argued that would bring the county line more in line with what private businesses pay.

“It’s something I would like to get done, but right now I don’t have the support,” Williams said.

Kokoski said she asked Lorain County Chamber of Commerce President Frank DeTillio to take an informal poll of local businesses and he reported to her that four out of the five companies he talked to pay 51 cents a mile — the rate recommended by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Kokoski said so few employees actually ask for reimbursement that it wouldn’t save the county much money.

Kalo, the only commissioner who submits mileage reimbursement requests, said he travels extensively on county business.

“I use the mileage the most, but the board is the ones sending me all over the place,” he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.