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Kitsap government contemplates four-day work week

A potential $5 million shortfall of sales tax revenues has sent Kitsap County government scrambling to cut additional costs, putting forth the idea of closing down all administrative departments one day a week.

“Both the department heads and elected officials are analyzing the impact of a four-day work week,” said County Administrator Nancy Buonanno Grennan. “We are looking at the effect on both service delivery and the impact on employees as a whole. This is based on the idea that we will get some serious energy savings by closing down for three days in a row.”

While the idea has been floating around since the summer, recent economic conditions have given it serious traction. Sales tax revenues are generated by new construction, which is now moribund. Departments have already cut 2.2 percent of their budgets and are now confronted with the requirement to cut that much again, and more.

While the county commissioners have received a basic plan, several details are yet to be determined. First, which day will be designated as off (most likely Friday) and what office hours will become. Even with a Friday closure, it has the potential to improve service. Currently, departments are open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. five days a week. Switching to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. four days a week could actually be more convenient for some visitors.

The plan could require four 10-hour days, or cut back to either 36 or 32 hours a week. This idea will stand a better chance of staff acceptance as long as the same level of benefits remain.

Both the administration and public works buildings are newly constructed, with high levels of energy efficiency. Grennan said more potential savings could come from the decreased energy needed for less frequent use of county vehicles.

Even with all the needed details, the plan could execute fairly quickly. It is part of the existing ‚“budget decision matrix,” to be addressed at a Dec. 1 public meeting. If approved, the four-day week could begin in early 2009.

Three buildings and seven departments would be involved. The main administration facility houses the commissioners, auditor, assessor, treasurer and community development. The public works and personnel departments are housed in an adjacent building, and the public works annex near the Bremerton Airport would also close for the day.

Law and justice functions, housed in the courthouse, would not change.

Grennan said that four-day weeks are being considered by government agencies throughout the country, as higher fuel costs and decreased sales tax revenues are universal problems.

Still, if the county makes the switch it will be one of the first to do so, and it will need to actively publicize the change. Most people will assume the county adheres to a Monday-Friday schedule, and could get angry if they arrived in Port Orchard and found a locked door.

Grennan said this is less likely to occur in any case, as the new Kitsap 24/7 Web site is designed to offer services online that previously required a trip to the county seat.

“We are providing as many services as we can online or on the phone,” she said. “The Web site was designed in anticipation of having to close one day a week. The two go together hand-in-glove.”

On its own, the Friday closure will not save enough to compensate for the lost sales taxes. With this in mind, Administrative Services Director Shawn Gabriel is directing the 2009 budget process. He has scheduled meetings this week with department heads and elected officials at which time he will tell them how much they will need to cut back — again.

Gabriel said that any measures implemented will stay in place, even if the previous sales tax levels return. This does not mean that waste was prevalent in the past — only that government is the object of constant streamlining, and there is always room for improvement.

This is part of a process that has become familiar to local government workers. They are told to cut back, responding that services will suffer. They follow the limits, and services continue. It happens again during the next budget cycle, and there are always new places to cut.

“The budget process has been a real eye-opener,” Gabriel said. “We will need to learn how to become more efficient, and maintain this efficiency in the future. We will never do business in the same way again.”

County Assessor Jim Avery said he has been able to cut 10 of the 38 staff members he had 10 years ago when he first took office, with no decrease in services. This has much to do with technology, as tools like mobile computers have allowed the office to accomplish more with fewer people.

“Technology allows us to find a lot of efficiencies that weren’t there before,” he said. “In fairness to everyone, the decrease in sales tax in Kitsap County reflects what has happened nationally as a result of the poor economy.”

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