07/02/08 — County officials consider short week

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County officials consider short week

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 2, 2008 1:46 PM

Hoping to save money and energy, the Wayne County Board of Commissioners discussed again Tuesday the likely possibility of switching some county offices to four-day work weeks.

Despite not taking action yet to actually make the change, the board did vote unanimously to instruct County Manager Lee Smith to proceed with plans for the new schedule.

The Sheriff's Office, jail and Office of Emergency Services would not be included in the new four-day schedule, but would be open to flexible hours for administrative staff. Flexible hours also would be an option for administrative staff in the buildings and grounds, county manager, Soil and Water Conservation and N.C. Cooperative Extension Service offices.

Otherwise, most of the county offices would be closed on Fridays, except the landfill and convenience centers, which would be closed on Wednesdays. Smith said Wednesday is a "slow day" at the landfill.

Services on Aging and Day Reporting would close at noon on Fridays.

Smith, who is expected to have his final recommendations by the end of the week, asked commissioners for the administrative authority to implement the proposed schedule.

Commissioners said they like the concept, but warned that they didn't want the level of service to diminish. They also appeared concerned that the changes would cause public confusion.

"I am concerned about the delivery of service, but I am willing to proceed with caution," Commissioner J.D. Evans said. "I think it is good thinking, and I think Wayne County can take the lead."

Smith said the new schedule will change service delivery, but not the level of service.

Smith first suggested the four-day work week more than a month ago.

To hammer out the details he enlisted the county's Benefits Task Force that consists of county employees.

Committee member Alan Lumpkin of the tax office delivered the task force's findings to commissioners.

He said the first consideration was the impact any change would have on the county's ability to provide service.

Also considered were potential fuel savings for employees, the impact on employees' quality of life, potential operational savings for the county and any roadblocks that would have to be overcome.

Since the number of work hours would be the same, most employees felt there would be little to no impact on their ability to provide services, he said.

He said the four 10-hour days would benefit the public by providing a time before and after the regular workday for residents to handle their business with the county.

Lumpkin also said they believed the construction community would appreciate the availability of inspectors earlier in the day.

Other benefits of the longer day, he continued, would be the availability of more time at the start and end of each day for county employees to do their paperwork.

But he acknowledged that public confusion could be the biggest drawback.

"It is felt that every possible avenue must be used to ensure our clients are told well in advance so they can plan appropriately and are not disappointed," Lumpkin said.

Smith suggested a media blitz to inform the public. Also, instead of having callers listen to music while on hold when calling a county office, they could be listening to a message about the new schedule.

Shifting to a four-day week could save employees 20 percent on fuel costs for commuting to work, Lumpkin estimated.

He said employees had commented that having Fridays off would allow them to take care of work normally done on weekends, while those with second jobs would have a day off or another day at their second job.

Day care, though, topped employees' concerns about thenew schedule. Lumpkin said some employees did not know how they would manage after-school activities for children, while others were concerned about whether their day care providers would be flexible for the longer work days.

Smith said in those cases employees might be able to work out a flexible schedule with their department heads.

Lumpkin said it would be difficult to determine how much savings the county would realize from the new schedule.

However, Smith said savings could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Commissioners said the county would need at least a year to determine the schedule's impact.

"If you find out in the first month that it is absolute chaos then you can stop it," Commissioner Jack Best said.