Tourism funds will keep two main public bathrooms in Astoria cleaned five days a week after federal coronavirus relief lapsed.
Over the summer, Astoria received regular complaints about feces, syringes and other vandalism of public restrooms, especially in those under the Doughboy Monument in Uniontown and on Exchange Street near a memorial plaque for Clark Gable.
A previous contractor declined to continue cleaning the city’s bathrooms for even double the money. The new contractor, Associated Cleaning Services, wanted more than three times the money for the same level of cleaning.
The city agreed to a scaled-back contract of $57,697 that only covered cleaning the two main public bathrooms three days a week, including $11,258 in coronavirus relief funds for two extra weekly visits to each of the two bathrooms through last year. But a new stimulus bill approved by Congress did not include any direct support for state and local governments this year.
After negotiating a lower landscaping contract, parks staff identified an extra $16,887 in the Promote Astoria tourism fund that could be shifted toward the bathrooms. The City Council on Monday approved shifting the money to keep cleanings at five days a week.
Sarah Lu Heath, the executive director of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, said that keeping the two bathrooms cleaned more frequently is more important with the closure of many buildings to the public.
“We’ve lost the use of a couple restrooms downtown, with City Hall and the aquatic center being closed, and of course with restaurants largely closed to indoor dining,” she said. “I know both in the Uniontown and downtown, a lot of those restrooms might be what the customer used previously.”
Parks staff clean bathrooms at Tapiola Park and repair damage at all bathrooms. The city also pays for three port-a-potties along the Astoria Riverwalk.
Associated Cleaning Services is now being paid $74,584 to clean the two bathrooms downtown and in Uniontown five days a week over a 10-month period at a time when many part-time staff at the parks department have been furloughed because of the pandemic. But Jonah Dart-McLean, the parks director, said there are background costs with hiring and training part-time staff for cleaning that make contracting out the janitorial services advantageous for the city.
“Going out for bid each year for the contract, (we) have just seen those costs increase, partly due to COVID from the cleaning perspective, in terms of the number of hours it takes to clean something safely,” he said. “And then procuring supplies has become more expensive.
“In addition to that, too, we have a specific janitorial license that an entity or the individual needs to have through the (Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries). So it’s not that anybody could take on the contract. They’d have to get licensed through the state.”
City Manager Brett Estes cautioned that the tourism revenue in the Promote Astoria fund has also been hurt by the coronavirus.
“If this is a prioritization — that we want to be able to keep having the restrooms cleaned at this rate — then this will be rolled into the financial report, which will be coming to the City Council later on in January, saying that this was a needed expenditure, and then looking at what other items might not be able to be taken on this current fiscal year,” Estes said.
Mayor Bruce Jones waxed hopeful that if Democrats win two runoff elections in Georgia and take control of the U.S. Senate, the chances of a new stimulus bill this year with more support for state and local governments would increase.