Many San Juan County offices soon will be closing their doors to the public on Fridays. Commissioners unanimously voted to change to a four-day workweek.
The executive and assessor's offices, and the legal, information technology, finance, purchasing and human resources departments will make the switch to four 10-hour days beginning Sept. 1, 2013.
The stated reason for the change is that "it can result in taxpayer savings, better efficiency and improved employee morale."
We don't think the benefits of such a change outweigh the potential impact on the customers of the county offices. Those offices are intended to serve the citizens of San Juan County.
Let's examine the stated benefits.
It is estimated that the change will save between $40,000 and $50,000 annually in utility costs. While any saving in these cash strapped times is important, that amounts to a proverbial drop in the budget bucket. Actually, that drop is less than 0.05 percent of a $115 million budget. Hardly anything to get excited about or on which to make a major operating decision.
Giving the employees a four-day workweek certainly will be a morale booster. We suspect most people would opt for a three-day weekend every week if given the choice. In discussing the change, Commission Chairman Scott Eckstein said "The citizens are the most important thing to me, and this looks like a way to better serve the public." If somebody has business with the county they can take care of it on the way to work instead of having to take time off."
While opening offices at 7 a.m. is a good step, we question how many residents will be able to get their work conducted with the county and still make it to work on time. Staying open until 5:30 p.m. also falls short in terms of accessibility for most people with regular jobs.
And for those who get paid on Friday, which is many of us, your county business will have to wait until Monday.
For San Juan County residents, we think a better solution would have been to spread the workday later into the evening Monday through Friday and open the offices at least half the day on Saturday. Such a solution would have required flexible scheduling of hours and possibly closing for a partial weekday when there are consistently fewer people using county services. However, we think evening and Saturday hours would provide better service than reducing availability of county employees by one full day.
The commissioners say the change in work schedules are a "one-year experiment," and the county could switch back to a normal workweek if problems arise.
Commissioner Eckstein said in the next year he'll be looking for feedback from citizens and employees to determine if the scheduling will continue. But he thinks the change in hours will benefit San Juan County residents.
We think that expanding availability of county services would be of benefit to residents, and fail to see how reducing days of service by 20 percent is a good move. The minimal cost saving does not justify the inevitable reduction in availability of services.