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Five-day government service coming to Island County

Island County offices will soon be open to the public on Fridays.

Commissioners Jill Johnson and Helen Price Johnson decided at Monday’s board meeting that the community needs the extra day to access county services. Their agreement provides the majority needed for the proposal to pass, but the formal decision won’t be made until 10 a.m. Monday, May 12.

“Progress … it will be very well received in our community,” Price Johnson said.

County offices have been closed to the public due to staffing cutbacks starting in 2009. Last year’s budget revealed that the county has finally begun to recover from the recession and commissioners have been slowly reviving programs and services that were cut.

The new hours will open county administrative services from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, including offices for the treasurer, auditor, assessor and the commissioners office. The new hours would go into affect about a month after adoption.

The public counters for public works, planning and public health will reopen on Fridays, but the Monday-Friday public schedule will be shortened slightly from the current 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Department heads have argued that Fridays have provided staff much needed quiet time to complete tasks without public interruption, and the 3-4:30 p.m. time period is expected to allow for that.

“What I like about this proposal is a couple of things. … it does address the need in planning and community development, the health department and public works where they do have complicated processes that they need to go over that require collaboration between departments, and they need some time to do that without having the public waiting for them at the counter as they do,” Johnson said. “So putting them on that eight to three allows for that quiet team collaboration to happen.”

Commissioner Kelly Emerson stated her unwillingness to align the Camano Island offices with the hours of the Island County offices because she wanted to keep costs down. The commissioners heckled over opening the Camano Island offices at 9 a.m., as they are currently, or 8 a.m. in keeping with Whidbey Island offices.

Johnson finally conceded. Emerson, however, announced her resignation at the end of the meeting so its unclear if the 8 a.m. time will stand. Johnson and Price Johnson agree that the hours of the Camano Island county services, which will include the commissioners office, public health and planning, should mirror administrative hours on Whidbey, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“It’s important to be consistent across our departments and across both islands,” Price Johnson said. “With assurance from staff that they won’t lose accuracy or efficiency, I’m comfortable moving it forward.”

The changes will cost the county an additional $37,000 annually, according to Budget Director Elaine Marlow. Commissioners waited for Marlow to present the year’s first quarter returns before deciding the county could afford the change.

Camano Island resident Carol Wilkerson said that while she agrees with the move to open Fridays, she disagreed that the county was using two part-time people to fill a full-time role on Camano. She said it appeared they were attempting to avoid the cost of full-time benefits.

“We certainly could use five days a week here on Camano, it’s a long trip to Coupeville and so we definitely would like to see it staffed here five days a week,” Wilkerson said. “…If we do extend we should consider giving full hours to our staff. We shouldn’t have part-time employees for the purpose of not giving benefits. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”

Emerson disagreed with the increased hours and said she wanted to stay away from paying benefits.

“I’m not in agreement there,” Emerson said. “I’m not in favor of making that change with the front office there to add those additional costs in. If that’s the best you can do, I still don’t go along with it.”

 

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