Friday, May 15, 2009

County backs off 4-day workweek

Real estate agents worry about sale closures

Express Staff Writer

County commissioners have decided to hold off for the time being on a plan to shift most county offices to a four-day workweek.

Commissioners elected Tuesday to delay a decision on the plan until more information can be gathered on the potential impacts the change might have on local business, most notably the county's real estate industry. The Sawtooth Board of Realtors recently came out in opposition to the plan due to concerns over how limiting access to the county recorder's office might impact business.

"They feel it will harm them if they can't close a sale on Friday," said Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman.

The county's consideration of the four-day workweek is primarily an outgrowth of efforts to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2025. County officials have also cited the cost savings such a move might create as another justification for the possible change.

Last March, the commission listened to details of an internal survey that asked county employees whether they'd like to move to four 10-hour shifts a week to help cut back on power use and help the county save money. Of the nearly 100 respondents queried, 65 percent preferred the four-day work week, the report showed.

According to county staff, moving to four days a week would help reduce the county's carbon emissions—which scientists say contribute to climate change—in two ways. First, it would reduce energy use in county buildings because of reduced heating and lighting needs. Secondly, it would limit trips to work that employees drive each week.

The county wouldn't reduce the number of hours county services are available to the public. Rather, they would extend hours of business into the morning or evening to compensate. This would benefit working people, who often are unable to take care of county business after leaving work, staff said.

During the March meeting, all three county commissioners expressed tentative support for the idea of moving to a four-day workweek.

Still, members of the Sawtooth Board of Realtors haven't been swayed, a letter to the commission from the group's government affairs director, Robert Crosby, makes clear.

"We do support your and your staff's efforts in addressing climate change and in reducing county operating costs," Crosby writes in the April 30 letter. "However, due to the potential negative economic impact on our industry ... we cannot support the four-day workweek proposal."

On Thursday, Bowman said the commission will likely revisit the issue in about a month. But before that happens, he said commissioners want to consider ways of reducing the impacts the change might have on local businesses.

Bowman said county leaders are also waiting to hear back from several counties in Utah that have already shifted to a four-day workweek. He said they're also interested in a three-month test of a four-day workweek that's happening in Gooding County.

Jason Kauffman:

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