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New Cost to Day Labor Site?

Plan to attract new site operators could cost town $13,500

The Town of Herndon may need to spend an estimated $13,500 to attract a new day labor site operator to town that would agree to check work authorization status, according to a staff memo that suggests the town "address the risk and economic uncertainty concerns" of an earlier unsuccessful request.

The plan suggests that a section of the former police facility at 1481 Sterling Road in Herndon undergo renovations worth an estimated $13,500 to make the facility more attractive to potential private and non-profit employment agencies looking to take over its operations.

As proposed, the operator would be allowed to use a wing of the municipally-owned facility at a cost of $100 a month. The utility fees and maintenance costs of the wing would be borne by the operator, according to the memo.

A draft request for proposals for a new operator is scheduled be presented to the Town Council during a May 15 work session by Elizabeth Hagg, director of Neighborhood Resources for the Town of Herndon.

Those fees may not need to come from Herndon’s proffers, as the council could also suggest that any proposal solicitation require an operator to pay back those renovations over time, Hagg said.

THE CURRENT DAY labor site, the Herndon Official Workers Center, is operated with a grant from Fairfax County by non-profit organization Project Hope & Harmony and is located in a rented trailer and canopy tent in a parking lot behind the former police department. The operator refuses to check for work authorization status of its workers, citing its lack of legal responsibility to do so.

The possibility of the town funding the renovations comes as staff attempts to make a previous, unsuccessful request for proposal for a new site operator to check worker status more attractive to employment agencies and other potential operators. The previous request for proposals was returned in February with no bids, as interested parties noted a perceived lack of profit in the venture, according to Hagg.

The Herndon zoning enforcement team, which operates out of the old police facility, would not have its operations interrupted during any of the renovations, Hagg said.

The possibility of the town functioning as the day labor site operator is not being suggested by staff, she added.

THE PROSPECT of the town spending funds to draw a new site operator to town is unattractive to Vice Mayor Dennis Husch.

"I’m not in favor of spending money for that purpose," Husch said, "but that is what is being proposed and the council will talk about it."

The proposal that would ask the town to pay for renovations for what could be a private business so that it would ultimately be able to eliminate the current labor site is not a good one to council member Harlon Reece. Reece has consistently supported the current site as an effective way of dealing with the town’s day labor population that had previously lined South Elden Street.

"When we originally held hearings about the current site, some of the objections from the current council were that it would be on public property and using municipal funds," said Reece. "So I can’t understand in the least bit why this would even be a consideration."

"How did we get to the point where the town is providing subsidized space for a private business?"

Husch said that he is not sure whether he would support the renovations or whether completing them was an effective way of attracting more attention to the request.

"It may be, it may not be, but we didn’t have any takers last time," he said, "so I’m willing to hear what the community has to say."

Calls made to Mayor Steve DeBenedittis were not returned.

THE ISSUE of changing the site is fast becoming a requirement for the council, as the town’s agreement with the current operator is set to expire on Sept. 15. As there is insufficient time to locate a new operator by that time, a proposal to allow the current operator to continue its operations while the town explores its options for a new provider is being undertaken, according to the memo.

The Town Council has been actively seeking a new operator for the site since the start of the year. The current mayor and most of the council members won a municipal election in May of last year after running on platform opposed to the practices of the current day labor site.

The council has the right to revoke the zoning permit that allows the site to operate at any time, but concerns with the town’s ability to effectively and legally enforce its ordinance forbidding informal street work solicitations have prevented it from doing so.

Advocates of the day labor site have pointed out that it would be ineffective at addressing the large number of day laborers and make the anti-solicitation ordinance unconstitutional if it were replaced by one that checks work authorization status.