Re-open Island County offices on Friday, it’s time

Struggling to stay afloat amidst unprecedented revenue losses and subsequent staff reductions, the Island County Board of Commissioners agreed in late 2009 to scale back service by closing select departments to the public on Fridays.

It was a prudent move at the time, designed to provide remaining and over burdened employees with a chance to catch their breaths and make a dent in an ever-increasing backlog of work.

But that was four years ago; the situation is different now, and the commissioners should rescind this once necessary policy and restore county office hours to five-day-a-week service. It’s the right time for the county, it’s the right time for the public and it’s the right time for Whidbey Island’s economy.

First and foremost, growth and development have always served as barometers of the economy and while recovery from the Great Recession remains slow, rising home values — 2 percent in 2013 — and an awakening housing market are indications that things are getting better.

And as several island real estate agents and contractors have recently pointed out, there is sufficient need now to have county offices open on Fridays. Expediting the county’s permit process does have an impact on their businesses and, indeed, the overall financial health of Island County. That consideration should not be taken lightly, especially if such economic hobbles can be avoided, which it sounds like they can.

At a recent round table meeting with the commissioners, a host of department heads indicated that they are in a position to restore Friday office hours. It would present some hardship, but it could be done. In general, Island County is graced with exceptionally qualified and experienced leaders. These long-time professionals know their charges and their capabilities well. If they say it’s possible, then the board should take them up on the offer.

The commissioners have voiced concerns about the proposal, some related to the cost of hiring additional staff and others concerning the long-term sustainability of such a move.

There is nothing wrong with having reservations and wanting to weigh a decision carefully before committing; it’s a sign of sagacious elected officials. But the board should not meditate too long.

The public, department heads, and our economy are all saying the same thing — Friday service is possible and it can be done very soon.

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