Waco City Council on Tuesday agreed to seek proposals to privatize the city’s janitorial services but told nervous custodians the decision to outsource has yet to be made.
The council voted 5-0 to authorize City Manager Dale Fisseler to seek the proposals from companies using the “competitive sealed proposal” process, which considers qualifications and service details as well as price.
The outsourcing discussion drew at least a dozen interested members of the public, including some janitors who spoke of their fears of losing jobs and benefits.
About 100 more people showed up for a zoning case involving the proposed Bosqueville South 40 apartments, which ended in the denial of the zoning request but not the end of the project itself.
Fisseler has suggested janitorial privatization as a way to save $294,000 a year, more than 30 percent of this year’s cleaning budget. But he said he won’t make an official recommendation on outsourcing until the proposals come back.
Councilman Dillon Meek said he won’t be comfortable supporting privatization until he can get some key questions answered. He wants to know more about the private companies’ benefits and their use of part-time workers, the job opportunities for existing janitors and the effects on service quality, Meek said. He also wants to discuss the possibility of phasing in the private contractor based on attrition with the existing staff.
“Those are some things I must know before I can support it,” Meek said.
Councilman Jim Holmes said he would be willing to consider a phase-in as well, and he is reserving judgment on privatization until the proposals come in.
“I think we wouldn’t be serving taxpayers if we didn’t check it out,” Holmes said.
Privatization could affect 22 full-time janitors who get vacation time, health insurance and retirement, as well as three part-timers.
Charles Reed, a former mayor of Waco, implored the council to reconsider the direction of privatizing janitorial jobs.
“The only way this is going to save money is by cutting the pay and benefits of people who work for the city,” Reed said. “I ask each of you to search your conscience and ask, No. 1, is this necessary? And No. 2, is this the right thing to do?”
Custodian Floyd King said the news of the possible move has already caused anxiety among the staff.
“They are greatly overwhelmed by this,” King said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever had sleepless nights. . . . Look in your hearts and ask, would you want this to happen to you?”
Longtime custodian David Harris said it is not just city workers who would lose with outsourcing. The city itself would lose loyal workers who provide personal service to employees and visitors, Harris said.
“We are more than janitors,” he said. “This job is more than pushing a mop. We are representatives of the city of Waco.”
Mayor Kyle Deaver told the custodians the city does indeed value them.
“We appreciate the work you do and have done,” Deaver said. “If we implement this, we want to work with you to find other jobs. . . . I hope you will be flexible in letting us help you find another position.”
The council’s vote Tuesday also was unanimous on the rejection of Planned Unit Development zoning for the Bosqueville South 40 multifamily project at Steinbeck Bend Drive and Rock Creek Road.
Brazos River Ventures was looking for the customized zoning to allow 216 small apartments on 10 acres, but neighbors and school officials in Bosqueville opposed the plan. The vote to deny the PUD zoning means the developer can continue under existing zoning to build 156 apartments and 60 rental houses on the property.
The council in July had postponed a vote to allow the developer to do a traffic impact study on the development. But the developer, Kirk Willard, told the council he wasn’t willing to spend the $20,000 required for the study without some preliminary approval of the project. City staff had offered to reduce the scope of the study so it would cost $7,500, but council members were cool to that idea.
Deaver challenged opponents to explain why they thought rejecting the PUD zoning would result in a better development.
“It almost seems that those opposing this think the council has the ability to deny multifamily in that area,” Deaver said. “The benefit of the PUD is that it gives the city council and staff more control over the way the project looks and is maintained than under standard zoning. . . . I question whether y’all are making the best decision in opposing the PUD.”
Still, Deaver voted to reject the PUD zoning in deference to neighbors’ wishes. The first vote deadlocked for lack of a supermajority as required to override a Plan Commission recommendation.
Council members Holmes, Wilbert Austin and Deaver voted to reject the zoning. Council member John Kinnaird and Meek voted in favor of the PUD zoning but reconsidered on the second vote.