Hollis explores ways to save taxpayers' money

HOLLIS – Faced with rising fuel costs and related increases in everything from pens and paper to electricity, town and school officials are exploring ways to save taxpayers’ dollars, including going to a four-day workweek.

The idea was raised Monday night at the board of selectmen’s meeting, where Susan Hodgdon, the new superintendent of the Hollis/Brookline school district, was one of two members in the audience.

Hodgdon attended the meeting to introduce herself, to meet board members and to express her desire to work collaboratively with the town officials.

She stayed for the entire 3-1/2-hour meeting, scribbling notes in her day planner during discussions that were chiefly centered on concerns about spending.

It was the first time officials have publicly discussed reducing the workweek to save money.

“It’s certainly a possibly that warrants further discussion,” acting town administrator Cathy Hoffman said Tuesday.

Selectman Mark Johnson said several taxpayers contacted him recently to suggest cutting back the workweek. One of them serves with Johnson on the town Budget Committee, the selectman added.

“Many municipalities have gone to a four-day week. It’s practical, and in some communities it reduces energy costs by 10 percent I’ve heard,” Johnson said. “It’s certainly worth looking into. I’d rather go to a four-day workweek than cut services or raise taxes.”

Indeed, on Tuesday, CNN reported on its Web site that a community college in Cocoa, Fla., saved $267,000 in the course of a year, after reducing the workweek to four days last summer and turning down air conditioning and heating systems.

Hollis board Chairman Vahrij Manoukian said the discussion Monday was the first he has heard of the four-day workweek, an idea he said merits consideration given the continuing economic downturn.

“We’re exploring it to see if it saves energy,” Manoukian said.

Likewise Selectman David Petry endorsed a study of the option, observing that some local companies have already instituted a four-day workweek.

“I would say anything we can do to save the taxpayers money, reduce costs, is worth looking into,” Petry said Tuesday. “All options are open at this point.”

Selectman Mark LeDoux is also in favor

“I don’t think the cost of energy is going down precipitously,” LeDoux said, adding it would allow the town to close buildings for three consecutive days, saving on fuel and electricity.

Having had the experience of working a four-day week, LeDoux said he found the schedule motivating.

“Productivity goes up,” he said, suggesting that the three-day weekend boosts morale and performance.

The selectman said changing the operating hours at Town Hall could have other benefits: if offices were open between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., for example, residents could conduct business before or after work.

“I like the concept,” LeDoux said. “We should look at every opportunity to maximize savings, improve service levels. Nothing should be off the table, particularly today.”

If the town were to adopt a four-day workweek, some departments would be excluded.

Hoffman, the acting town administrator this week while Troy Brown is on vacation, said police and fire departments come to mind.

But the model could work in some sectors and has been used for two decades in the town Public Works Department.

DPW director Jeff Babel said the four-day workweek, used for most of the year, has allowed the department to achieve greater efficiency: by cutting out one day of starting up and shutting down machinery, the department is saving an hour’s work weekly.

During the winter, employees work a four-hour day Fridays, to deal with weather-related situations.

Babel said that saving an hour a week translates into significant savings for the 13-member department. He did not have figures available Tuesday.

It’s also made his employees happier.

“I get more out of them during the week,” he said.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24, or hbernstein@cabinet.com