Beginning in August many state offices will be closed Fridays to cut energy costs, shifting thousands of state workers to a four-day workweek, 10 hours a day.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said his new "Working 4 Utah" initiative, which he announced Thursday, is also intended to provide better customer service to Utahns because the agencies affected will be open longer hours from Monday through Thursday: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"This will be a very good thing for the state," the governor told reporters during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Channel 7, where he unveiled the new program set to take effect Aug. 4.
It is expected to save taxpayers an estimated $3 million in energy costs as well as cut the amount of money state employees have to spend on gas to commute to work. Huntsman said the program will help the environment by reducing the state's carbon footprint.
The schedule only affects executive branch agencies, not state courts or the Legislature. Also excluded is public and higher education. Higher-education buildings make up the majority of the state's 3,000 buildings.
And the governor said other state functions will be exempted from the new schedule, including some in corrections, transportation and human services. But, he said, as many as 1,000 buildings throughout the state could end up being shut down on Fridays.
Many details remain to be worked out between now and August, however.
For example, the Department of Health still needs to determine whether to keep open the Bureau of Vital Statistics on Friday so people can pick up copies of birth and death certificates.
"We'll figure out where we can shut down on Friday," said Tom Hudachko, health department spokesman. He said that's tricky because many department services, such as the medical examiner's office, must be available around the clock.
The projected energy savings are based on an analysis of six state buildings, including the massive office tower behind the state Capitol, according to Kim Hood, head of the Department of Administrative Services.
Hood said shutting down just those six buildings an extra day every week over the next year should shave $123,000 from the state's energy bills. It should also save employees in those buildings nearly $313,000 in gas costs.
About 23,000 state workers will be affected by the change and Huntsman predicted about 10 percent will have difficulties making child-care, transportation and other arrangements needed to accommodate the change from working five, eight-hour days a week.
Many local governments in Utah already have four-day workweeks.
West Valley City has operated on a four-day workweek schedule since 2000. Most of the city's employees except sworn officers, building inspectors and a handful of others work Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
City spokesman Aaron Crim said closing City Hall on Fridays saved the city $65,000 in energy costs in just the first year, but regular three-day weekends for employees is also a major morale booster.
"People are a lot happier," Crim said. "Thursday rolls around and it's almost the weekend. Even though we work 10-hour days it takes a little getting used to overwhelmingly, I haven't heard a single complaint about it."
Provo spokeswoman Helen Anderson said the city went to the four-day workweek back in 2002 to give residents early and late access to city facilities. It also helped reduce overtime and operational costs, such as utilities and janitorial costs, and helped employees reduce their commute mileage.
While many city services are online, however, some residents still prefer a live person to help them. Thus, the city has now adopted a modified four-day workweek, hoping to accommodate people who still want service on Fridays, but continue to give many city workers the shorter week.
State workers taking a lunch break in the Capitol's cafeteria Thursday had mixed feelings about a four-day workweek.
"The new schedule will take some getting used to, but we will eventually," said Rob Miles, a Finance Division manager. "My family and home time may be interrupted because it's already hard to do all the things I need to do there with an eight-hour work day."
A woman who has worked for the Tax Commission for seven years said she's worried about the impact the new schedule will have on her children. "They're in day care and now I'll have to leave them there for 10 or 11 hours," she said.
At least one user of state services wasn't concerned about the change.
Suzanne Gillame, who was headed into the Department of Motor Vehicle office in Salt Lake City, said the Friday closures won't be an issue for her.
"I guess it's a good idea with gas prices and what not," Gillame said. "And as long as they have extended hours to make up for Friday, I'm fine."
The governor said one of his biggest concerns is making sure Utahns know how much can be accomplished online at the state's Web site, utah.gov, including purchasing fishing and hunting licenses or renewing drivers' licenses.
Huntsman said Utah will be the first state government in the country to mandate a four-day workweek for state workers. Oklahoma and West Virginia are currently considering a similar requirement, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures blog.The governor said he does not expect there to be any cost associated with initiating what will be a one-year pilot program. He said he will handle the change by executive order and no action from lawmakers is needed.
Contributing: Lois M. Collins, Amy Choate-Nielsen, Clayton Norlen, Jens Dana
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