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Money to clean beach restrooms OKed by city

October 13, 2002

June Casagrande

Forty-three thousand dollars set aside by council members on

Tuesday could mean better, cleaner conditions at the city's 14 beach

restrooms.

The decision is just the latest chapter in the city's ongoing

quest to keep beach bathrooms clean -- a quest that illustrates the

difficulties of choosing between contractors or staff to do the

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less-than-desirable work.

Budget pressures in the late 1980s caused city officials to change

restroom cleaning from a city staff responsibility to a service

provided mainly by outside contractors. But, as officials learned in

a study session on restroom cleaning last month, you get what you pay

for. Contracted workers who make less money and enjoy fewer benefits

than city staff just don't have the incentive to work as hard.

This reality became glaringly obvious in July 2000, when a new

contractor's workers took one look at the atrocious condition of some

beach restrooms and refused to do the work. As a result, the firm

reneged on its contract with the city on the very first day it was

supposed to provide services. Who stepped in? City staffers, who were

paid overtime to clean the restrooms.

Currently, two city staff members supplement the work of two

companies that contract with the city for beach restroom cleaning.

The total cost of about $225,655 a year hasn't been enough.

Department heads in the last budget requested an additional $20,000

for beach restroom cleaning. They were shot down. But last month,

Councilman Gary Adams requested the city find a way to improve the

bathrooms' condition. The solution officials agreed on: An additional

$43,000 in the budget to pay for more contracted cleanings.

Officials opted to use a contractor for the additional cleanings

because, again, money is tight and the city can't afford the

higher-priced staff workers.

"We get a lot of people saying, 'We have too many employees. Why

don't we contract out?'" Adams told residents who questioned the

decision to hire a contractor. "But when we contract out, people say,

'Why can't we do it with city employees?'"

Only time will tell whether Tuesday's move will result in more

presentable restrooms in an illustration of the cliche "throwing good

money after bad."

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