Vancouver more than doubled the size of its annual contract with the company responsible for cleaning its municipal buildings, a change that city leaders say is linked to more stringent sanitation requirements during COVID-19.
During their regular meeting Monday evening, Vancouver city councilors approved a major increase in the contract with Del Sol, the local business that employs the city’s janitors. Vancouver will now pay approximately $3.83 million per year for cleaning services, compared with $1.5 million it typically spent in pre-pandemic times.
The item passed unanimously, with no discussion from councilors.
“The COVID pandemic caused the need for additional services to prevent spread of the virus in building interiors and police and fire vehicles,” Cara Rene, Vancouver’s director of communications, explained in an email to The Columbian.
The contract with Del Sol will expire in January 2024, with total spending not to exceed $9.83 million.
According to documents reviewed by city council Monday, Del Sol workers have been employing extreme cleaning practices since March 2020. Two extra employees are on staff per day tasked with sanitizing high-contact spots – places like door handles and stair railings – in all open city-operated buildings.
The contractors are additionally responsible for fogging police and fire vehicles with Vital-Oxide, a powerful disinfectant, delivered through an electrostatic sprayer.
The beefed-up cleaning won’t be paid from city coffers. According to Rene, the additional cleaning expenses will be covered by a previous round of federal funding that Vancouver received as part of the second round of CARES Act money.
In August, Vancouver received $8.33 million in federal funds. Of that, nearly half – $3.74 million – was allocated to COVID-19 workplace modification, covering telework support, increased supplies, and disinfecting public areas.
Vancouver has since received a much larger sum from the federal government. The stimulus bill signed in March by President Joe Biden allocated another $145 million total to municipal governments in Southwest Washington, including $32.61 million for Vancouver.
On Tuesday, City Manager Eric Holmes said that Vancouver staff haven’t yet determined how best to spend the much larger windfall.
“While early information suggests that there may be flexibility in how the funds may be spent, we want to have the official Treasury guidance in hand,” Holmes said.
“In addition, it is clear that funds need to be spent by the end of 2024, which gives us time to be thoughtful about how these resources can have a lasting impact in Vancouver.”
According to guidance issued by the federal government, municipalities like Vancouver can use the money to respond directly to the COVID-19 health crisis, as the city did by increasing its sanitation budget this week. They can also use the funds to increase pay for essential workers, as well as adopt policies to stimulate businesses during the pandemic.
Cities could additionally use the money for the general fund, backfilling any tax revenue missing as a result of the pandemic. Vancouver’s 2021-22 biennial budget, passed in November before the latest round of assistance was doled out, recommended that the city dip into $57 million of its cash reserves.