BELDING — After 10 months, the experiment of a four-day work week in Belding appears to be bordering common practice for city employees.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday evening, members of Belding City Council voted 5-0 to extend the current trial period of a four-day work week for city employees, which began in August 2013, for an additional six months.
Council members originally approved the change from a standard five-day work week for a trial period of six months, in which city employees work four 10-hour days, as opposed to five eight-hour days.
The four-day week became effective in August 2013, with business hours for the city occurring from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
That trial period was extended in January with stipulations from council members that it be reviewed thoroughly by Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore as a cost effective and positive change for the city and its residents.
“We spent approximately just shy of a year doing this,” Mullendore said. “The premiss was to allow for better customer service toward residents with the extended work hours both before and after the traditional weekday. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback at the counter from residents who haven’t been able to get to city hall previously.”
Mullendore cited an example of a resident who had personally expressed gratitude in the change of business hours because he no longer had to take vacation time away from work to conduct business with the city.
However, according to Mullendore, there was no cost savings in regards to building utility fees as she had originally projected.
Mullendore cited “record-setting cold and snowfalls” from the winter season, which saw additional space heaters utilized at city hall in addition to the building’s boiler, as the reason for a lack of cost savings.
Mullendore also noted that written resident feedback has been ineffective, stating that residents have not made an effort to voice their opinion either way via comment cards that are available at the front desk at city hall.
“We’ve been unsuccessful in getting people to fill out comment cards,” she said. “Generally, what we’ve found is if people are dissatisfied, they are more inclined to write things down, however, if they are content they are not so apt to write down a comment.”
Mullednore said both Police Chief Dale Nelson and Fire Chief Gregg Moore will continue to work five days a week, working eight-hour shifts.
Mullendore added that the Department of Public Works has had an easier time addressing resident complaints regarding water meters, as workers have been able to address complaints after 5 p.m. when residents are more likely to be home as opposed to at work.
In discussing the issue, council members bounced back and forth on the pros and cons of the four-day work week.
Councilman Joe Feuerstein said he would like to see the additional day off for employees, currently occurring on Fridays, possibly switched to Wednesday to allow residents who also work a four-day work-week the opportunity to visit city hall
Mullendore said to her knowledge, historically, the slowest business day for the city normally occurs on Fridays while the busiest days tends to occur on Mondays.
She also stated that this year three federal holidays, Good Friday, the Fourth of July, and the day after Thanksgiving, occurred on Fridays, for which the city did not have to pay employees for vacation time.
Councilman Jerry Lallo said he’d like to see city hall open “even for a few hours,” on Fridays, to aid those who may only have time on Fridays to conduct necessary business with the city.
Mayor Ron Gunderson said he sees both sides of the issue, but believes the switch to a four-day work week to be fairly effective.
“As far as a four-day work-week, it’s getting more common, especially in this day and age. It’s actually becoming a perk for the younger generation. I have been at city hall enough to know that during these hours that they are open now, they are quite busy. I don’t think there’s a time when there isn’t someone at the counter, even at the extended hours. I’m not opposed to the four-day work-week, but I think we need more feedback from the residents.”
Councilman Mike Scheid said he would prefer the city continue to explore the issue on a temporary basis, rather than make it permanent, with a hope that residents would address any concerns, positive or negative, at city hall, using the comment cards.
“I would assume we continue what we’re doing now and revisit it in six months,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that are working 12-hour shifts, only four days a week, and not all of them can make it to city hall.”
Council members also voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a budget amendment for the 2013-2014 fiscal year reflecting a positive change of $108,283 in the city’s general fund.
According to Mullendore, the city originally budgeted for lesser revenues and higher expenditures, hence the positive change in the general fund.
Mullendore said five city departments went “slightly over their budget,” but the remaining departments finished “substantially under” their projected budgets.
“This means that while we budgeted for lesser revenues and higher expenditures we are going to exceed our forecast for revenues and come in under our expenditures which will allow us to put back over $100,000 into fund balance this year,” she said. “It’s a greater savings than anticipated.”
Mullendore said would eventually like to see the additional funds used for road repair throughout the city.
Mullendore cited Demorest and Water streets as the two streets most need of repair, estimating the total cost to fix both streets at approximately $100,000.
“One of the things that I’m going to advocate for is road work being done,” she said. “Demorest Street is in a horrid sate of repair and is heavily traveled. We know it’s bad. I’m probably going to come to (city council) asking for those funds to be transferred into the (city streets) fund.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Jones said if work is to be done on those roads, he would like to also explore sidewalk repair/installation or implementing a bike lane, especially on Water Street.
“I live on Ellis Street and when I come home I see kids walking and women pushing strollers on Demorest street,” he said. “There’s a lot of (foot) traffic. If we’re going to do the repaving, I’d like us to look at the possibility of doing side-walking.”
Gunderson agreed, stating that he no longer will walk along Water Street, believing it to be too dangerous.