Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Butler officials want a full week

Commissioners call for change in offices with 35-hour work schedules

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Because of a longtime quirk in Butler County's employee policies, hundreds of county employees are being paid full-time but are required to work only 35 hours per week.

The county commissioners want that to change.

"Having a 35-hour work week in today's world is really unusual," Commissioner Mike Fox said.

Such a work schedule can't sit well with taxpayers, who are bearing an increasing share of the cost of government, he said.

But because almost none of the departments and agencies on 35-hour work weeks are under the commissioners' control, they have no power to change the situation.

"We need to do what we can to pressure and encourage those departments and agencies to go to a 40-hour work week," Fox said.

The commissioners aren't asking for an immediate change in working hours.

Federal law would obligate the county to financially compensate employees for the extra five hours of work per week. That would cause county payroll expenses to increase by 14 percent or force the county to lay off some employees.

So the commissioners suggest converting to a 40-hour work week over a period of time, using attrition and buyouts instead of layoffs.

The 35-hour work weeks began in 1980, when the county stopped requiring some departments to remain open for five hours on Saturdays, said Courtney Combs, who has been a commissioner for almost 17 years.

Employees who had been working 35 hours Monday through Friday and five hours on Saturdays were allowed to stop working Saturdays but to continue working 35 hours per week at the same salaries.

Most of the departments on 35-hour work weeks are connected with the courts - common pleas court, juvenile court, domestic relations court, probate court, the 12th District Court of Appeals, the clerk of courts, adult probation and the prosecuting attorney's office.

Other county departments and agencies on 35-hour work weeks include the recorder's office, the treasurer's office, the board of elections, Children Services, the health department, the Board of Mental Health and the Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

County Recorder Dan Crank said he's not opposed to shifting his office to a 40-hour work week. But he said the work flow in some departments may not be suited to a 40-hour work week.

"I think it's up to each individual officeholder to find out what works best for them," Crank said. "But I definitely can see the commissioners' point of view on this."

Over the past 20 years, all departments and agencies under the commissioners' control have converted to 40-hour work weeks.

The exception is the Butler County Care Facility, whose nursing requirements necessitate the 35-hour work week, County Administrator Derek Conklin said.

The commissioners say the 40-hour work week initiative fits in with their emphasis on cutting costs and improving efficiency and services.

A report recently compiled by Conklin showed the county employees in departments under the commissioners' control have declined from 667 in 1995 to 625 this year. Conklin said the decrease was accomplished without layoffs.

Conklin pointed out that Butler County has one of the lowest per-capita tax rates in the state.

A 2001 study showed the county ranked 78th among Ohio's 88 counties in local general-fund tax rates.


E-mail skemme@enquirer.com

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