Emotions ran high in Summerland's council chambers Friday morning when a janitorial contract was awarded to a Kelowna firm.
Council voted 6-1 in favour of choosing Evergreen Building Maintenance to clean several municipally owned buildings, including municipal hall, the RCMP detachment, the public works building and the recreation centre.
Evergreen's bid came in at $68,968 annually, by far the lowest of the eight tenders received. LA Beamish of Summerland, which had the contract since 2005, was the second-lowest bidder at $110,505 annually. Tenders, which included bids from Calgary and Delta, were as high as $193,500 annually.
Although staff and council were satisfied with the service offered by LA Beamish, cost was the determining factor.
Director of finance Ken Ostraat told council that Evergreen has contracts with several other municipalities, including Penticton, Kelowna and West Kelowna, and that the company received favourable reviews.
Ostraat acknowledged that staff were pleased with LA Beamish's service, but admitted, "It's impossible to have no complaints (on custodial work), no matter with what contractor. Any time we did have issues, it was corrected."
Ostraat said because the custodial contract includes the RCMP detachment, additional security clearance is required of all employees.
"The only defining point was the dollar value, and it's not insignificant - it's 25 per cent. It would be a lot harder decision to make if it was only a five per cent difference," Ostraat said. "That's $40,000 a year and two-thirds of a percentage point of taxes."
Mayor Janice Perrino said it's now required by law that municipalities accept the lowest bid unless there are extraordinary circumstances to support taking a higher-priced tender. She doubts the argument of "staying local" would hold up in court if the losing bidder chooses to sue. Perrino noted council faced a similar situation recently with a garbage contract.
"It makes me sick. Today is a terrible day," Perrino said, appearing to hold back tears. "But it's our job to make the hard decisions on behalf of the community, and the taxpayer deserves people at this table to make these decisions."
Coun. Peter Waterman, the lone dissenting voter, was adamantly opposed to the contract being moved out of town.
"I have a huge problem," Waterman said. "Our resident tax dollars will now be whisked out of town. This will put another local business out of business with $60,000 of our money going to a valley-wide contractor in a low-wage situation.
"If we're to take our climate-action effort seriously, we'd be encouraging extra travel by an out-of-town contractor creating a larger footprint."
Waterman was scolded by the mayor for his statement that "staff appears to cherry-pick what goes out to tender and what doesn't."
Fellow councillors also told Waterman that LA Beamish has more than one client in the community, but agreed that losing the municipal contract will be a blow to the local business.
"I really wrestle with this," said Coun. Lloyd Christopherson, who noted some locals could be hired by Evergreen. Christopherson described himself as being "reluctantly" in support of the motion.
Not all council members were wringing their hands over the decision, however.
"I don't feel badly at all," Coun. Orv Robson declared after the meeting. "It's business."
Custodial work is put out to tender every three years, but LA Beamish had the contract extended one year due to the construction of the new RCMP detachment.
When asked why the issue was discussed before a nearly-empty gallery on a Friday morning instead of at a regular meeting, Perrino said the current contract expires Jan. 1.
"It's appalling that it came up now. They will literally start working in one week," she said.