Town may get 4-day workweek

MERRIMACK – Falling in step with other local communities, Merrimack officials are considering ways to scale back some town operations to rein in energy costs.

At the town council’s request last week, Town Manager Keith Hickey presented the seven-member group with responses from several departments about squeezing 40 hours on the clock into a four-day workweek.

“Based on what I could gather, I didn’t see any real significant savings from energy costs by going to a four-day workweek – at least across the board,” Hickey said Monday.

In his analysis, the only building that could close for one day a week would be the town offices on Baboosic Lake Road.

While some department leaders were supportive of the concept of working four 10-hour days, several were concerned about payroll scheduling issues, holidays, child care adjustments and juggling evening education classes.

Hickey recommended the town explore a four-day week for the public works department during the spring, summer and fall.

Last month, Hudson highway crews adopted a four-day week on a temporary, experimental basis. That department hopes to close a $90,000 deficit in its fuel budget by saving 15 percent on what would be spent on miles traveled to work sites and the time it takes to clean and maintain equipment at day’s end.

Concord moved most of its 55 highway workers to a four-day, 10-hour schedule in July, and Hollis leaders began kicking around the idea last week, too. Several expressed support of the plan, which they think is a better option than cutting town services or raising taxes. They also thought it might be more motivating for employees because of the three-day weekend.

In Merrimack, moving forward with squeezing the public works hours would require discussion with department administrators and then a sidebar agreement among the employees, who are unionized, Hickey said. Not all public works employees would be able to work four days because of their duties.

Two unions cover public works employees, and their contracts aren’t scheduled for renegotiation until 2009 and 2010. However, if both sides agree to the terms, Hickey said, a deal can be made outside the normal period. During the meeting, Councilor Finlay Rothhaus said he would want a majority of employees to support the change.

Hickey said plans to pursue a meeting with administrators, but that may not be for several weeks until a new public works director is hired. He said he hopes to make a job offer by the end of the month.