06/28/09 — Four-day week spreading to other offices

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Four-day week spreading to other offices

By Phyllis Moore and Steve Herring
Published in News on June 28, 2009 2:00 AM

News-Argus Staff Writers

As August marks the one-year anniversary of the cost-cutting four-day workweek for most county offices, other public service providers such as the county school district and Wayne Community College have followed suit, even on a limited basis.

How much the measure has saved the county has yet to be released, but August will also signal the start of a review promised by commissioners when they approved the change last year.

The full year was needed, they said, to provide a true picture of how well the schedule works and just as importantly, how much it has saved the county in utility bills.

In his 2009-10 budget message County Manager Lee Smith said the four-day week and more efficient routing of county vehicles has saved more than $300,000.

With the exception of the landfill, which is closed on Wednesdays, offices on the schedule are open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and are closed on Fridays. Wednesday was selected for the landfill since that day is traditionally the slowest day of the week for that operation.

Earlier in the year, commissioners discussed putting all county offices on the schedule after Smith suggested the action.

However, no action was taken after some board members voiced concerns they had not seen enough data to know whether the change was warranted.

Local Realtors added their voices as well, particularly where adding the Register of Deeds and tax offices was concerned. Realtors said they feared shortening the workweek for those office would have an adverse affect on an already fragile and struggling housing market.

At that time commissioners, for the most part, expressed support of the four-day schedule. They also agreed it would be wise to wait for more citizens' input as well as more information as to how well it works.

The budget ordinance approved June 16 continues the four-day schedule, but did not expand it.

Meanwhile, the four-day concept seems to be working in other areas around the county, even if on a limited basis.

The Partnership for Children of Wayne County went to the new format on June 15, with the intention of having the new hours become a year-round situation, said Don Magoon, executive director.

While the public hours are 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, the staff works alternative schedules, often beyond those hours, he said.

"We're giving it a shot during the summer because that's the easiest time to try it," he said. "Folks have to figure out what to do with child care and evening things."

The Partnership "took our cue from the county," he said, and from what he's heard about the prototype, "it's had pretty significant savings with electricity and such."

In a budget year like this, it seems like a wise move.

"For the year to come, pennies count, especially on the administrative side," Magoon said.

The summer seemed like the appropriate time to make such a change, he noted.

"I think there is a fair amount of apprehension for the school year as far as activities and sports, but we are pretty family-oriented in our business. We have to be," he said, adding, "We will be flexible."

A lot of his staff is involved in training, so they are already working on a flexible schedule.

Magoon said he expects it to be an adjustment, with some finding the transition easier than others.

"From what I have heard so far, of course we are all of two weeks into it, the first week was tough getting up early," he said. "Other than that the three-day weekends are great."

This is also the first time for an abbreviated schedule at Wayne Community College, said President Dr. Kay Albertson, so it's too soon to tell what the savings might be.

The benefits of the decision trickle down to the students as well.

"Two of the major reasons we considered a four-day week of class schedules is because we knew it would save them at least one day's worth of gas. That's something that they're excited about," she said. "It also allows them another full day to work as so many of our students do."

Despite the longer working hours, faculty also enjoy the shorter week, she said.

"I think it's really a good move for traveling onto the campus for faculty and students," she said. "There's going to be some economic impact with that. It's just too early to tell right now."

Like WCC, the school system shortens the work week during the summer months. This is the third year Wayne County Public Schools has adopted the format.

It was initially introduced "to cut costs and because we don't have kids in school," Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said. "We can't do that during the instructional year."

While he could not specify how much the district has saved, he was confident that it has been measurable.

"It does generate savings in the utility costs ... When you shut down 33 (school) buildings and all the support buildings that you have, it absolutely has to result in some savings," he said. "From a budgetary point of view, any savings that we can generate is certainly a positive one."

At the same time, it has also helped with morale, as staff are allowed to have a longer weekend.

"It does take an adjustment, but we have a lot of our folks that work extended hours anyway. Even on the extended days, you will find people that are still there," he said. "It's been a very popular move during the summer."