By Leslee Kulba- Asheville City Councilor Keith Young wanted to pull from the consent agenda consideration of contracting with Asheville Staffing for temporary labor for the city’s Parking Services Division. The division, led by Harry Brown, employs fulltime staff to manage the gates and provide customer service at city-operated parking garages and surface parking lots during regular hours. Then, it works with a temporary agency to cover extended hours and special events. For years, the city has been working with the same agency.
The problem was, the city would pay Asheville Staffing $14.70 per hour, and employees would get whatever was left after the temporary agency paid itself. While the minimum wage is $7.25/hour, Just Economics, the advocacy group considered to be the authority on the subject, announced in January Asheville’s living wage would be $13/hour with health insurance and $11.50 without.
Conventional wisdom in the business world has long considered it a best practice to cover the day-to-day schedule with in-house employees and let a temporary agency handle the advertising, interviews, background checks, taxes, and insurance headaches for people who may only work with an organization a couple of days or weeks. While temporary agencies do charge considerable overhead, it is generally believed the contracting organization, if hiring in-house, would pay a similar amount in HR and payroll processing.
Paying staff time-and-a-half for overtime is also not considered a good business practice. It puts taxpayers on the hook for more money, and it can wear employees out; sometimes the temps are filling in for a regular employee on sick leave. Due to the irregularity of hours, it is reasonable to believe nobody would be trying to make a living as a temporary parking worker. Again, city employees are covering regular hours, so the temporaries will largely be working evenings, weekends, and holidays.
The amount of the contract is $96,000. So, assuming a very small 36-percent markup, the parking division is utilizing the equivalent of 2.5 fulltime employees a year – but the city needs to hire six to 15 temps at once to cover major events.
Staff informed Young that they did not know how much the companies took for themselves. City Attorney Robin Currin reviewed current law, which forbids cities from considering wages in awarding contracts. Young asked if the city could at least ask what they pay, and Currin said the city would be opening itself to litigation if it were to ask somebody who wasn’t paying a living wage and then didn’t get the contract.
Council then handed the matter back to staff for further consideration. For example, it was suggested the city might find a way to assign underutilized employees to garage duty. Staff was given until council’s December 19 meeting to generate new ideas. Parking Services Director Harry Brown is still hoping the contract will be in place by January 1.
By way of another consent agenda item, council unanimously authorized the city to participate in Duke Energy Progress’ small Business Energy Saver Program. By participating in the program, the small business (a.k.a. the City of Asheville) will work with Duke’s single-source provider, Lime Energy, to install energy-efficient lighting at the Public Works A building. The cost of the work is estimated at $75,322.40, minus program savings of 24 percent.
In other words, what you don’t pay on your tax bill, you’ll pay on your utility bill. The good news is, the project should pay for itself within ten years, when it’s time to replace the bulbs – except the city’s investment is recycled from savings already accrued with green lighting.
In Other Matters –
Leadership celebrated Moody’s Investor Services upgrading the city’s bond rating to Aaa. Asheville is now one of the smallest cities to receive that rating. With an AAA earned from Standard and Poor’s Rating Services in 2015, the city now enjoys the highest rating available from both bond raters. As a result, the city will have access to lower interest rates and more exclusive financial instruments. Factors impressing the bond raters included the city’s ambitious capital improvement program emphasizing infrastructure upgrades, its per-capita debt, and the fact that Asheville is a college town.
Councilor Cecil Bothwell took the opportunity to address “a lot of chatter” he had heard during campaign season about the city mismanaging its finances. “Yeah. Where were you?” joked Mayor Esther Manheimer.
[ED NOTE: Bond ratings represent credit risk. Buncombe County is now restructuring and trying to regain public trust in light of a federal investigation into fraud. Details have not been released, but Buncombe County enjoyed the same top ratings from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s when any crimes were supposedly perpetrated.]
The moral of the story, presenter Doug Carter of DEC Associates semi-jested, was, after defaulting on its loans, it has taken the city a century to rebuild its credit.