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ENC Regional News
Wed August 13, 2008
Energy costs prompt shift in Wayne County Government working hours
By George Olsen
New Bern, NC – INTRO - Hurting from the recent spike in energy costs, Wayne County government this month is changing when it operates in hopes of holding those costs down. George Olsen has more.
The most visible sign of rising energy costs has been at the gas pumps, which are finally starting to come down some after peaking at over $4.00 a gallon. But even with gas prices declining, energy costs are still substantially more than they were a year ago. When Wayne County began looking at its budget early this year, the Board of Commissioners marching orders to County Manager Lee Smith was to balance the budget without a rise in the tax rate which led him to investigate the possibility of a four-day work week.
00:30 What we looked at is, the big driver is utility savings we were looking at a 15-17% utility savings which overall would be 300,000-+ dollars and I think at this point in time that figure is very conservative but I think it's a very safe number and we knew there were some other savings out there.
The schedule, which went into effect August 4, has about half of the county's approximately 1000 employees working four ten-hour days Monday thru Thursday. This followed moving departments around so entire buildings could be shut down Thursday night rather than Friday hence the projected over-300-thousand-dollars in utility savings. Smith says the move should also allow county employees to see some personal savings too.
00:30 We're all suffering when we go to the gas pumps. This is also going to be an automatic savings of 20% commuting costs to all employees from week one. If you look at a typical raise to an employee in government, if you give them whatever the CDIA is 2, 3% a year for the average employee making between 20-25,000 dollars a year, it's less than what they would save in this 20% savings in commuting costs.
Not inconveniencing the public was also a concern in deciding whether to implement the four-day-a-week schedule. Smith doesn't think there will be too many problems there he notes a lot of their interaction with the public, such as with social services, is on an appointment basis and thinks its even possible the new 7-til 6 Monday thru Thursday schedule could provide citizens better access to county government.
00:30 Well, we'd received in the past a lot of questions from citizens about not being able to get here during work hours from 8-5, so we think we're answering that call by being here and extra two hours a day M-Th and they can come before work to pay taxes, go to the registrar of deeds or if they need to go to a health clinic in the afternoon, so we think that could be helpful and we hope people can take advantage of those early and late hours.
Smith says unless some obvious flaws creep up in the new schedule, it's something he wants the county to stick with for at least a year before re-evaluating and if it works as he hopes, there could be more changes. He refers to this as Phase 1. Phase 2 could involve shutting the county courthouse down on Friday which Smith says could result in savings that the public might eventually see.
17:35 We've got concerns on the courthouse where we're still on an 8-to-5 schedule, but I would like to be able to close the courthouse on Fridays because it's our next biggest facility. It's a huge facility and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in utilities to operate and if I could reduce that, I could a penny on our tax rate is about 550,000. With shutting all the buildings down on Fridays and doing a four-day work week, I could potentially save a penny on the tax rate. May not seem like a lot but 550,000 dollars is a lot of money to me.
Lee Smith is the Wayne County Manager. I'm George Olsen.