Money-saving idea offered to Williamstown Council

WILLIAMSTOWN – City council was approached by the head of the Williamstown Public Works Department regarding saving money and keeping employees happy Tuesday during the council meeting.

“The city currently uses UniFirst for the employee uniforms and pays them $5,200 per year in uniform rental and cleaning fees,” said department director Alan Gates. “Throughout the years the (employees) have had issues with the company, and employees and myself are not happy with them.”

Gates said uniforms are often returned from cleanings just as dirty as when they were sent out.

“The reflective material on the shirts is often compromised and is no longer reflective, which is a safety issue when my guys are working on the side of a street and people don’t see them because the reflective material on their uniforms doesn’t work,” Gates said.

Gates recommended that council look into ending the contract with UniFirst, which is a Boston-based international corporation with more than 230 facilities in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Gates said he has been working with managers at The Workingman’s Store, at 113 Putnam St., Marietta, and believes this partnership will be more advantageous to the city than the current contract.

“In the first year it will (cost) more than the current contract, but the second year will save money and that will continue,” he said. “In the next 10 years it could save as much as $40,000.”

Gates said the contract between the city and UniFirst can be broken by the city, from a clause in the legislation.

There is no contract required by The Workingman’s Store for the city to receive uniforms from the company.

The cleaning service from UniFirst is so far below the employees’ standards that of the nine men in the public works department, including Gates, only one uses the available service, he said.

“Only one person uses this company while the rest of the employees have been cleaning their own uniforms to preserve them,” said Mayor Jean Ford.

Gates said he and the others in the department would be willing to wash their own uniforms in the offices of the water plant if the city would purchase the washer and dryer appliances.

“All of the guys are in agreement that this is something that needs to be changed,” Gates said. “Right now it is just a small, feasible way to save money and make my guys happy.”

Council members will look into the situation and make a decision at a later date.

In other business

Williamstown city attorney Blaine Myers requested council give him more time to look into and learn as much as he can about solar power for a previously proposed plan that if approved will install and maintain a solar energy system on the roof of the City Building or at the wastewater treatment plant.

“I am not ready to make any recommendations,” Myers told council. “This is a very new area (for me) and I am taking my time to… educate myself and to get an understanding of how solar energy works.”

During the Nov. 5 city council meeting, Chip Pickering of Pickering Energy Solutions addressed council with a desire to make Williamstown one of the first in the area to have solar energy.

Pickering Energy Solutions does the work to engineer, permit, install and operate solar photovoltaic systems.

With a solar energy system, Pickering Energy Solutions will generate the renewable energy and sell it to the city at a discounted rate with extra power generated put back into the grid.

Pickering Energy Solutions has proposals out to Marietta College and West Virginia University at Parkersburg for similar systems.

The panels are estimated by Pickering to offset between 10 and 15 percent of the power costs for the city building site.

He believes the technology will evolve where the system will become more efficient and produce more as rules are moving toward this technology, taking up more energy needs in the future.

There are no upfront costs for the city as Pickering Energy Solutions would do the design and installation.

“I think it is important to take our time with this because it’s a 25-year commitment and that’s a pretty big deal,” Myers told council.

Myers will continue to look through the information and come back to council when he has an idea of what is best for the city.