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County refuses to create new jobs

Commissioners decide to hire yet another private cleaning service for county buildings rather than expand the payroll.

By BRIDGET HALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


INVERNESS -- Although the county has had difficulties with several custodial services hired to clean county buildings, commissioners said Tuesday they would rather hand the task to another private company than create more county positions to get the job done.

The commission shot down a staff proposal to add one part-time and five full-time employees to the payroll, at an annual cost of $121,150, opting instead to accept a bid from Southern Maintenance to clean the buildings for $130,152 a year.

"We're talking about five or six employees now, but next year it will be seven, and the next year it will be eight," Commissioner Roger Batchelor said. "This thing could mushroom on us."

Ernie Hutman, director of Maintenance Operations, said the county has had bad experiences with two custodial services in as many years. The county terminated its contract with the first company, and the second company opted out of the job after only a few months.

"Even under the best of times under the contract cleaners, we have had concerns over the quality of cleaning," he told commissioners Tuesday.

Employees in the county buildings in Lecanto and Crystal River complained about unwashed floors and empty paper towel dispensers.

The health department in Crystal River even had an incident in which one of the janitors allegedly threatened a county employee, forcing the county to change the locks to the building, registered nurse Anne DeMartine wrote in a letter to the commissioners.

By contrast, she said, the county employees who have cleaned the building since then have provided "consistent sanitary conditions" and have passed background checks allowing them to clean in secure parts of the building.

County janitors who clean other buildings, such as the courthouse, have been working 60-hour weeks to help clean the Lecanto and Crystal River offices once cleaned by the private janitorial service, Hutman said.

Commissioner Brad Thorpe originally supported the proposal to hand those cleaning duties over to more county employees, saying the private sector has given the county little choice.

"We've given it to the private entities, and they have failed," Thorpe said.

But Commissioner Jim Fowler said the county has not been aggressive enough in monitoring the janitorial companies' work, and that the solution is better administration, not more jobs.

"That's a new discovery for me that the government does a better job at anything than the private industry," Fowler said.

In other commission news:

Lakeview School: The board approved a 10-year lease with the Historical Society for the Historic Hernando School, also known as Lakeview. Dan Armstrong, a member of the Hernando Heritage Council, said the group has received $15,738 in cash donations and $46,000 of in-kind contributions toward turning the former school into a community center. "I have had an outpouring of volunteers who have been willing to get poison ivy and who have paid their hard-earned money to do this project without tax dollars," he said.

Pro-Line grant: Commissioners voted to move forward with their application for a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant from the state, which will cover the cost of extending county water and sewer lines out to the Holder site where Pro-Line Boats hopes to build its new factory.

Septic inspections: The board approved a measure allowing county health officials to inspect existing septic systems when a house or other building is being expanded, even if state laws do not require the inspection. The inspection costs $50 and ensures that the septic system can handle serving a larger building, said Gary Maidhof, director of Development Services.

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