Costs to rise as county drops cleaning contract in favor of higher bid
The county administrator said the county should consider which opportunity provides the best return on the investment.
Cleaning services for Crow Wing County buildings will be completed by a new contractor with a significantly higher price tag following board action Tuesday, Feb. 11.
The Crow Wing County Board followed staff recommendation and awarded a two-year cleaning contract to EnviroTech Building Services, a Waite Park-based janitorial company. The company submitted a bid for the cleaning contract totaling $272,828 per year — nearly $50,000 higher than North Country Janitorial & Supply Inc., the rural Brainerd-based contractor retained by the county since 2011.
Facilities Manager John Melson told the board a January request for proposals updated contract terms and expanded cleaning specifications for county facilities. A team consisting of county staff members interviewed representatives of the two companies to determine the “best value” based on more criteria than bid price alone. EnviroTech, Melson said, scored higher on two areas with more weight — the company’s technical ability and capacity to perform the contracted services, and demonstrated success in projects with similar requirements.
“They shared a lot of innovation and efficiency recommendations in their interview process,” Melson said. “... They brought some technology to the table, which is new to us.”
Among those services cited by Melson was a training program developed for the county’s specifications, including descriptions and illustrations on employee carts explaining how to clean each space, a color-coded cleaning cloth system and electronic invoicing and scheduling. He also pointed to features, including a mopping system, a disinfection method using static electricity and surface hygiene testing.
By selecting EnviroTech, the county will pay $95,656 more over a two-year period than if it had awarded the bid to North Country Janitorial. This year’s bid also represents an $85,148 annual increase over the previous North Country Janitorial contract, approved in 2015.
Acknowledging the higher bid price, Chairman Paul Koering asked Melson whether he’d done an analysis to determine at what point it would be more cost-effective to return cleaning services to in-house county employees.
“Not that I want to hire more staff,” Koering said. “I think at some point it becomes cost-effective when these contracts get kind of expensive, where would it be, the breaking point?”
Melson, who took over the managerial post when Reid Thiesse took a similar position with the Brainerd School District in August, said he hadn’t yet completed that analysis.
“We’re not there yet,” Melson said. “I think we’re getting close to being there.”
Another change to the contract this year has the county supplying larger equipment — such as floor sweepers — and cleaning chemicals, which were in the past provided by the contractor. In a follow-up email, County Administrator Tim Houle said purchasing this equipment was expected to cost $50,000-$55,000. Houle noted both the cost of equipment and the higher cleaning costs were included in the 2020 budget, and together the expenditures came in below that projected figure.
Houle provided three reasons for the decision to purchase equipment: to lower the cost of entry for potential contractors during the bidding process, to make the county more independent in the event a contractor doesn’t perform to expectations or it’s more economical to perform the work in-house, and for occasional use in the jail, which is cleaned by inmates rather than the contractor.
Commissioner Steve Barrows made the motion to award the bid to EnviroTech, and Commissioner Doug Houge seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously.
When asked whether there were any problems with the services provided by the current cleaning company after Tuesday’s meeting, Houle said he had no interest in denigrating a local company.
“We did talk about the assets that we think the other vendor brings over and above what the current vendor brings,” Houle said. “We can talk about the part of the glass that’s half empty or the part of the glass that’s half full. We prefer to talk about the part that’s half full.”
Houle said county leaders should consider which opportunity provides the best return on the investment.
“It is not inconceivable sometimes that we can achieve sometimes better value by paying a higher price,” Houle said. “I think we know that from our own lives. There are times that I go to the market and I can buy the cheapest product and the cheapest product will last me a year. I can pay 20% more for the best product and it will last me 10 years. Which one is the better value? That’s the procurement process we’re allowed to use, so we don’t have to be just low price.”
Koering said despite his reservations about spending taxpayer dollars, he trusted the judgment of staff.
“Believe me, as tight as I am, $50,000 is a hell of a lot of money, but I’m going by what their judgment is,” he said.
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .