Pitkin County ponders shorter work weeks
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” As Pitkin County prepares for deliberations on the 2009 budget, some officials have mentioned implementing a four-day work week to save both money and wear and tear on the workforce.
The matter came up during a work session Tuesday in Aspen, when the county commissioners met its leadership team, comprised of key personnel from a variety of departments.
The group discussed the 2009 budget, which is expected to represent a drop in both income and expenses, although there were no hard numbers yet for the commissioners to review.
The meeting was the first of a series of talks among county officials that will lead to adoption of next year’s budget. County staff started working Wednesday on estimating the anticipated income from taxes and other sources, with expectations that revenues will drop significantly due to the economic turmoil being felt around the world.
The county’s budget for this year was $24.5 million, more than $7.4 million of which came from sales taxes.
Travel to Aspen is predicted to be down by nearly 7 percent next year, according to local travel experts, which could mean lower sales tax collections. The Financial Advisory Board has predicted that sales tax collections will decline by 3 percent in 2009, compared to 2008, and will not grow appreciably again until 2011.
The effect on the county’s budget could mean cuts in some areas, officials believe, although the county’s finance office will not finish its formal budget recommendations until later this week.
“The mystery starts today with the budget,” said board chairman Jack Hatfield.
More than 50 percent of the county’s roughly 230 employees now live downvalley, below the Basalt-Carbondale portion of the valley, Phylis Mattice of the county administrator’s office said Tuesday.
Free bus passes are “enticing” as a recruitment tool for new employees, she said, “but the quality of life is impacted if you have a family, if you have children, and you have to commute an hour each way to work.”
As a result, she said, when jobs open up on the county staff, often “we just can’t pay enough” to fill the positions.
Commissioner Patti Clapper asked if there had been any talk of moving to a four-day work week, which she said would both cut the transportation costs racked up by downvalley workers and give those workers more time with their families.
“We are offering a lot of that,” Mattice said, explaining that some county departments have “flex-time” work schedules that accommodate those who can get their work done in four, 10-hour days. In addition, she said, the county has increased the use of laptop computers so employees can work from home or elsewhere and not be tied to a desk.
But there has been no formal discussion of cutting the county to four days of operations per week, she said, adding that she has heard that the state of Utah has put its offices on a four-day schedule, and that other towns have tried it as well.
“I’d like to know if it’s possible,” said Hatfield, noting that certain departments, such as public safety and the sheriff, could never be included.
Commissioner Michael Owsley, questioning the idea and worrying about the finances of county employees, asked, “How will people make enough money?”
Some governments have shaved their work-weeks down to 37 hours, but kept salaries at the 40-hour level, Mattice said.
“That’s one of the really creative things going on out there,” she said.
Discussion centered for a moment on the idea of saving on utility bills, in the form of heating, air conditioning and lighting, if buildings are closed for three-day weekends instead of the traditional two.
Mattice pointed out that a four-day week of 10-hour days could be difficult for parents with children in daycare, although Clapper noted that things like pick-up times are not set in stone.
“There are ways to gather the community to support that if we were to go in that direction,” she said.
Commissioner Rachel Richards added that such matters could be taken to the board of Kids First, the agency that oversees the distribution of city funds to daycare centers.
County staff will continue to look into the idea of trimming a day off the county work week, as they work on a formal budget proposal that is expected to get is first public airing next week at the latest.
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