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Staff proposes continuing security guard contracts

Tuesday, April 19, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council has been urging city staff since at least 2012 to hire more security guards as city employees, while city management and financial officers have pointed out the difficulties of doing so. Once again this week, Council will be considering contracts with five security guard companies.

The item authorizes negotiation and execution of five multi-term contracts for unarmed security guard services with IPSA Security Services, Vets Securing America, Securitas Security Services, Starside Security & Investigation, and Universal Protection Service. Each contract is for up to five years for total contract amounts not to exceed $45 million divided equally among the contractors.

If Council members decide they do not wish to approve the five-year contracts, staff members have given them the option of one-year contracts. The current contracts expire in July.

As explained in an April 15 memo from chief procurement officer James Scarboro and Building Services officer Darrell Alexander, “current labor market conditions and a limited talent pool are creating barriers to insourcing efforts.” The memo goes on to analyze the prospects for in-house staffing for the various buildings and departments.

Building Services is primarily responsible for maintaining security at a variety of city sites besides City Hall, including Town Lake Center, the Permitting and Development Center, and four others. In addition, the department has an agreement with Austin Public Health to arrange security at five neighborhood centers. The six security guards at the neighborhood centers are all working as contract labor.

While the Building Services Department has hired eight in-house security guards at City Hall and the Permitting and Development Center, and 10 in-house guards at the Rutherford Lane building, the city still has 14 contracted security guards at its core sites.

Hiring has not been easy as the city is just one of many employers struggling to find enough workers to fill all of its open positions.

Austin Energy, Austin Water, Austin Public Library, Austin Municipal Court and Downtown Community Court, and the Austin Convention Center all have special requirements, and it seems likely that they will need contracted security guards for the foreseeable future.

Both of the utilities have particularly important properties to secure. According to the memo, Austin Energy has a five-year plan for transitioning almost all of its security guards from contract labor to city employees. The total cost for Fiscal Year 2023 through FY 2027 is estimated to be nearly $17 million, but, “This plan has met challenges to begin by FY23 because of labor shortages.”

Austin Water has prepared a transition plan, but intends to augment existing security staff with contract services. The water utility is in the process of hiring nine security positions and intends to hire an additional six next fiscal year, pending Council approval. Staff did not provide a cost estimate.

Staff members offered this blunt assessment of requiring the municipal court and the community court to maintain employee security guards: “The additional cost, inefficiency and management required to maintain an insourced, properly trained and certified security force” for the two courts “is not recommended at this time.”

The Central Library and branch libraries are putting together an insourcing plan, but even after the plan is complete, the library will still need contracted security services “due to labor shortages, position vacancies, turnover, and the need to cover seasonal and event-driven work.”

According to the memo, the convention center needs contract labor not only for its large public events, but to secure its three parking garages.

Council passed a 13-page resolution in August 2019 urging City Manager Spencer Cronk “to minimize the use of contracts for various services, including but not limited to custodial, security, call center, landscaping, and other services, and instead hire city employees to perform the same work.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo, the lead sponsor of the 2019 resolution, said at the time, “It’s not making these changes today, but it is instituting as a general philosophy that we want to move forward as a city with that value embedded into our contracts. So when those contracts come forward to us we expect that kind of analysis and whenever possible we expect those jobs to become city jobs.” She added that she was looking forward to seeing the resolution implemented in the future.

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