Suwannee Democrat

Suwannee Democrat

July 7, 2011

Commissioners look into privatizing custodial department

Live Oak — County custodians are distraught over a move by Suwannee County Commissioners that could see them in the unemployment line.

Commissioners voted Tuesday morning to look into privatizing custodial duties, which, if seen to fruition, could mean booting five full-time employees out the door.

“I am very upset about this. In fact, I’m darn right mad,” said custodial head crew leader Helen Stoudemire. “We are very loyal, faithful workers. I’ve been her twenty-three years and I have some custodians who have been here ten.”

Commissioner Wesley Wainwright suggested the board look into outsourcing custodial duties as a way to save money and cut costs in that area, including benefits and supplies.

The custodial department consists of five full-time employees and two casual employees. Custodians make on average between $8 and $11 an hour. The annual budget for the department is $157,000.

Wainwright told the Democrat Thursday that he’s not certain that outsourcing will save the county money, but he believes it’s an avenue that should be explored.

“We need to explore opportunities to save money,” he said.

After weighing some pros and cons, commissioners later voted to look into how much the county could potentially save by hiring a private cleaning company.

Commissioner’s Jesse Caruthers and Ivie Fowler said departments with larger budgets should be looked at first.

Fowler also expressed concern over security if unfamiliar custodians were to frequent county buildings.

County Coordinator Joe Gerrity said he plans to conduct an inventory and determine the amount of services used by each county building. Gerrity said he hopes to present bid proposal packages from cleaning companies at the next commission meeting, then commissioners can decide if they wish to go out for bids. However, he said it could take longer.

A disquieted Stoudemire said employees of her department - consisting predominantly of single moms and senior citizens who cannot survive on their pensions alone - and their families would be devastated if they lost what is, for some of them, their foremost or only income.

Caruthers echoed her concerns.

“I’m not for it. Starting at the weakest level is not the way to go, they need their jobs the most,” he said. “It’s a predominately minority department, and that’s another thing that disturbs me.”

With the county facing a worrying economic climate and funding cuts, Wainwright said, unfortunately, sometimes employees may be let go when cutbacks are necessary.

“Hopefully those companies (private cleaning companies), with the increased business, would need to hire more help,” he said.  

Stoudemire, whose husband is without work, is her family’s sole provider and does not plan to stand by quietly if plans to privatize county cleaning duties reach maturation. She said there is already talk amongst her workers, whom she described as “very upset”, to seek legal advice.

“We do not plan to go down without a fight,” she said.

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