Unnecessary county positions could cost some WI taxpayers millions


By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Milwaukee County taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $550,000 a year if local lawmakers vote to rehire about 20 public-sector janitors whose services aren’t needed.

WASTEFUL SPENDING?: Milwaukee County taxpayers could have to pay more than $550,000 a year to fund unneeded custodian positions at the courthouse facility.

Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. has proposed a resolution authorizing the Department of Administrative Services to bring back the custodians, who have been gone since 2010, when the county privatized its janitorial and housekeeping operations.

As part of the deal, Weishan is asking the county to cancel one of its month-to-month contracts with Mid-American Building Services, a private Milwaukee company paid $424,884 a year to maintain the county courthouse complex.

The only rationale Weishan gives in his resolution is the displaced county housekeepers have been unable to find decent jobs.

Multiple attempts by Wisconsin Reporter to reach Weishan by phone and email were unsuccessful.

“Obviously, there are some on the board that are more focused on getting these people employed than they are (on) the taxpayers,” fellow County Supervisor Steve Taylor told Wisconsin Reporter. “It’s going to cost a half a million dollars more a year. How can you look Milwaukee County taxpayers in the face and say that this is good government? It’s more of, like, favoritism than anything else.”

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and its Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee still have to approve the legislation.

Milwaukee County Facilities Maintenance Manager Gary Waszak estimates 20 county housekeeping positions are required to approximate the cleaning standards set in the contract with Mid-American.

Additionally, the county would have to annually purchase about $40,000 in cleaning supplies, which currently are provided through the Mid-American agreement.

An administrator at Mid-American declined to discuss the number of private employees at the courthouse or their hourly wages.

By rehiring the government custodians, county residents would have to pay an additional $378,992 for the remainder of 2014, according to a fiscal note prepared by Stephen Cady, director of research services for the county comptroller’s office.

Cady says that total could reach $556,786 for the entire year in 2015.

The fiscal impact assumes the former county workers would be hired at $14.23 an hour, the same pay range for housekeepers at General Mitchell International Airport. The seven-step pay schedule tops out at $16.63 an hour, or $34,593 annually.

Health-care coverage for each employee is projected at $13,836 per year, and county pension contributions are calculated at 10.4 percent of salary, according to Cady.

The total cost for each janitor in 2015 is $46,668, including $30,563 in salary and $16,105 in fringe benefits.

Weishan’s proposal stipulates that if the former government custodians decide not to rejoin the county or eventually leave through attrition, new public workers will take care of housekeeping and janitorial services.

HOUSEKEEPING: Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. is proposing a resolution that could needlessly cost taxpayers millions over the next several years.

“If we are getting the job done at a reduced cost, then how does it make any sense whatsoever to go backwards and pay people more money for the same work?” Taylor asked.

Byron Schlomach, director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, doesn’t understand why Weishan is pushing for the measure when it will likely hurt a private business that adds to the tax base of Milwaukee County.

Terminating the Mid-American contract also could result in the loss of numerous jobs, according to Schlomach.

“This person seems to have a one-track mind that the only people he particularly cares about are the people who are actually on the public payroll … It’s almost inexplicable how silly this is on its face,” Schlomach said.

County officials approved privatizing custodial jobs in the 2010 county budget to reduce operating expenses. Since the elimination of more than 90 county positions, taxpayers have saved about $2.6 million a year.

At the time, however, privatization didn’t sit too well with some board members.

Former Supervisor Toni Clark told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in December 2009 the county board did not have a meaningful role in the discussions because the services were categorized as standardized procurement by then-county executive and current Gov. Scott Walker.

The county signed full-year contracts with outside firms in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but moved to month-to-month agreements in 2013.

That leaves the door open for supervisors to negotiate longer-term deals if the county board passes a proposed union-influenced living wage ordinance.

The legislation would require companies doing business with the county to pay their employees a minimum wage of at least $12.45 an hour.

But contracting firms can be exempted from the wage hike, but only if their workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement between the employer and a bona fide labor union.

County Comptroller Scott Manske predicts the living wage could add close to $1 million in janitorial costs in each of the next six years.

Contact Adam Tobias at atobias@watchdog.org or follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias

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