Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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For local government workers, it’s TGIT

Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin hears the complaint frequently: Why isn’t City Hall open Fridays?

“That’s a gripe everybody has,” Coffin said. “It’s unfortunate. I’d like us to be open on Fridays.”

But the fact is, shuttering municipal buildings in Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas one day a week saves millions in salaries and utilities. And with local governments still feeling the economic pinch after the Great Recession, residents are unlikely to see cities change their business hours soon.

Although it’s an inconvenience for residents and business interests, it’s a perk that most local government workers have come to expect. In the valley, only the Clark County Government Center is open five days a week.

Four-day government workweeks went mostly unnoticed for years, as employees worked staggered shifts that kept city halls open Monday through Friday.

But shrinking budgets have prompted several government offices to close Fridays, meaning residents with business to conduct need to go online or wait until Monday.

Las Vegas

City Hall hours: 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday

Typical employee schedule: Four 9.5-hour shifts — 38 hours per week

Departments open Fridays: Fire, animal control, traffic enforcement, jail, municipal court, sewage plant, parks and recreation, code enforcement, building inspections, phone bank

Las Vegas City Hall began closing Fridays in 2011 after the city’s largest union, the Las Vegas City Employees’ Association, shifted workers to 38-hour workweeks.

City officials say the dark day saves $6 million a year in salary costs and $170,000 a year in heating and electric charges. The schedule change was one of several cost-saving measures the city enacted to help close a budget gap.

Some developers have griped about city officials’ unavailability on Fridays. To ease their concerns, most departments started opening an hour earlier, at 7 a.m.

The city also offers business licensing and planning submission tools online.

The reasoning: “We used to allow some employees to decide whether they wanted to take off every other Monday or every other Friday. From an operations standpoint, it’s difficult for managers and supervisors if half of those folks are off on Mondays and half are off on Fridays. ... Alternating the days was a bit problematic for us, so it’s more efficient to have everybody off on the same day.” — Mark Vincent, chief financial officer

North Las Vegas

City Hall hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday

Typical employee schedule: Four nine-hour shifts — 36 hours per week

Departments open Fridays: Code enforcement, building inspection, utility customer service, police, fire, libraries, parks and recreation, public works, golf courses

North Las Vegas was the first local government in Southern Nevada to make the switch. City Hall began closing Fridays in 1977 as a cost-saving measure.

In 1997, city officials reopened government offices on Fridays to better serve residents and encourage development, but officials kept workers on the four-day, 36-hour schedule union members negotiated in 1977. Some employees worked Monday through Thursday, others Tuesday through Friday.

But City Hall struggled with staff shortages. Two years later, on a consultant’s recommendation, the city began closing the government building again on Fridays, saving about $3 million a year.

The reasoning: “The four-day work week has meant significant savings. ... Employees are paid for a 36-hour workweek, instead of the usual 40. Additionally, the city realizes important energy savings. Residents also have an extra hour to conduct business at city hall and have gotten used to the building being closed on Fridays.” — Mitch Fox, spokesman

Henderson

City Hall hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday

Typical employee schedule: Four 9.5-hour shifts — 38 hours per week

Departments open Fridays: Police, fire, utilities, parks and recreation, convention center, detention center, building and fire inspections, code enforcement, quality control inspections, facilities maintenance

Four-day workweeks began in 1983 as part of a collective bargaining agreement, but shifts were staggered to keep Henderson City Hall open Fridays.

That changed in 2009 when officials began shuttering government operations on Fridays to save money. They also laid off employees.

The closure cut heating and electric costs by $140,000 and salaries by $6.4 million, city officials said. The city shifted to earlier opening times Monday through Thursday.

The reasoning: “We’re paying our employees two less hours a week, so there’s some savings in salaries and benefits, as well as some energy savings from closing city hall on Fridays.” — Kathy Blaha, spokeswoman

The Exception: Clark County

County Government Center hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Typical employee schedule: Five eight-hour shifts — 40 hours per week.

Switching Clark County to a four-day-a-week operation has been casually discussed for years but never seriously considered. Staying open on Fridays in some cases is required by law and in others is simply practical, County Manager Don Burnette said.

State law requires the county assessor, recorder, treasurer, clerk and sheriff’s offices to be open five days a week.

McCarran International Airport, University Medical Center and the Department of Family Services operate around the clock.

Departments such as social services and the court system benefit from being open weekdays, county officials said.

“Based on what we do, we should have office hours across the entire workweek,” Burnette said. “I don’t want to reduce the number of days our offices are open to public.”

With the lights on for many of the county’s largest departments, any energy savings realized by closing some departments would be negligible, Burnette said.

“I don’t have the luxury of powering down the building,” he said.

Still, about a third of county employees work atypical schedules because of union agreements. Some work four 10-hour shifts; others work 80 hours in nine days over two weeks.

The reasoning: “We leave a lot of decision-making in the hands of department heads. If at any time the department head determines that a four-day, 10-hour shift isn’t working — that we’re not as productive — the department head has the ability to change the schedule.” — Don Burnette, county manager

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