Wednesday, March 2, 2011

County re-examines 4-day week

Savings significant, but commissioners want more info


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

The county saved more than $30,000 last year due to its four-day, 10-hour work week, but county commissioners said Tuesday they needed more information before deciding whether to continue the schedule.

"It's saving the county money," said Commissioner Larry Schoen, "[but] if we care what the public thinks, we should give them a chance to contact us."

The savings were "far better" than expected, said county Director of Operations Char Nelson.

"It's been extremely successful," she said of the new schedule, adding that projected cost savings had been only about $11,000.

The county saved about $15,700 by implementing the schedule, and also saved an unanticipated $15,900 in janitorial and maintenance costs for the closed buildings.

Overall, the county reduced energy costs by almost $42,000 by switching the old courthouse, the judicial building, the public safety facility and the McBride building to four-day weeks, demolishing the old sheriff's building and switching to high-efficiency light bulbs. The demolition of the Sheriff's Office alone accounted for some $12,500 in energy savings, Nelson said.

"It was a very inefficient building, and we're glad it's gone," she said.

However, the commissioners said that while the savings were good, it remains to be seen whether the county's changed hours have hurt the public. Commissioner Tom Bowman said he wants to hear from title companies and real estate agents who are unable to do business with the county on Fridays and have previously opposed the four-day week.

"We can't make everybody happy," Bowman said. "[But] we owe it to them to at least ask that question."

The report, prepared by Nelson and County Planner Shana Sweitzer, also showed that county buildings have reduced their greenhouse-gas emissions by 145.34 tons from 2009.

However, Nelson said there's still room for improvement, especially regarding fuel consumption in county vehicles. The county used 81,622 gallons of fuel last year, mostly in Road and Bridge and law-enforcement vehicles.

Nelson said that number would be very difficult to reduce, short of purchasing new, more efficient vehicles.

"That's the cost of doing business," she said. "We can't impact that one unless we stop plowing the roads."

Bowman said the commissioners hope to make a decision on whether to continue the four-day week within the next month and a half, before county departments begin setting budgets for the next fiscal year. Nelson suggested that no change be made before the end of the school year.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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