New Bern, NC – Wayne County Government has had a four-day work week in effect for most of its employees for just over a year as they sought to reduce costs and maintain their tax rate.
The four-day, ten-hour-a-day schedule went into effect on August 4, 2008 as the Wayne County Board of Commissioners presented the task to County Manager Lee Smith to balance the budget without a tax rate increase.
"What we looked at is, the big driver is utility savings. We were looking at a 15 to 17 percent utility savings which overall would be $300,000 plus. 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 goal was, after shifting departments around, to be able to shut down buildings entirely on Fridays, resulting in hoped for savings. One year after that statement made in August of 2008, his estimate on utility savings were pretty close.
"We actually came out just below 14 percent."
And that was looking at fuel consumption rather than price, of which the price of fuel has dropped considerably in a year's time. But when other factors were considered the estimated savings from the plan his hoped for $300,000+ in savings did in fact prove to be fairly conservative.
"With indirect issues like reduced sick days, reduced use of certain leave, production staying up people being at work and able to schedule their Fridays to do different things, errands and those kinds of things, and then the direct savings of fuel savings, buildings being closed, water consumption, energy, sewer was $429,000 which is just about $50,000-100,000 of being one penny on the tax rate in Wayne County."
In the midst of an economic recession, that didn't prevent cuts from being made, but Smith says they were able to go forward without a tax rate increase. While the goal was to save money, it was hoped it could be implemented in such a way that the public and employees wouldn't be inconvenienced. By and large the reports from employees have been favorable in fact, Sue Guy, the county Human Resources Director, says the four-day work week has become a bit of a recruiting tool.
"One of the things in our recruiting people will call and say is this one of the positions with the four-day work week. They love it."
Guy says the four-day week in effect for about 500 of the county's 697 full-time employees has given the employees a day for doctor's appointments and errands, which has produced a beneficial by-product for county government.
"But with sick and vacation leave we can gauge people aren't taking as many partial days. They were taking partial days to take doctor's visits but now they can schedule those on Friday so that almost disappeared."
The four-day work week has also worked to the advantage of those who had business with those portions of county government working on the four-day schedule typically Monday thru Thursday, 7 am until 6 pm.
"Our customers like the idea that some of the services now that they were having to take time off from work to take advantage of they can now deal with on the way to and from work. Almost all the work done at the health department is done by appointment anyway so they can now schedule late in the afternoon or on their way to work and not have to take time off."
There was hopes a year ago of a phase II possibly shutting down the courthouse on Fridays. The recession has had an effect on phase II building plans have slowed down so shifting personnel out of the courthouse isn't imminently feasible. Among the employees that effects Lee Smith, whose county manager office remains on a 5-day-a-week schedule. So phase II of his plan is likely not to be implemented anytime soon, but phase I has gone well enough where other local governments are making inquiries.
"Now I've had a lot of cities and counties to call me about doing this. The reason they're not doing this quite frankly is local politics. They're really afraid of public perception and I understand that, and you've got to be willing to bump your head and take the hit. I told the commissioners this is our idea and as a staff I will take the hit if it didn't work and if it didn't work we will claim it as our own and go back and change it. Thus far the board has said if its working keep moving forward because we see it making a difference, so, so far so good."
Lee Smith is the Wayne County manager. Sue Guy is Wayne County's Human Resources Director. I'm George Olsen.