Closing doors to save money? Towns eye 4-day work week

John Hilliard

As Sudbury town officials hope to cut energy costs this summer by running a four-day workweek, neighboring communities with their own rising energy bills wait to see whether a shorter week will become a municipal money-saver.

"It definitely caught my eye," said Natick Town Administrator Martha White, whose town, like others in the region, is working on ways to curb energy expenses, including limiting the number of meeting nights for municipal boards.

Sudbury will cut back its summer hours and close Fridays during a six-week pilot program, while Wayland consolidated meeting nights to save on fuel costs a few years ago. Weston town government also cut its summer hours, but workers are in the office five days a week.

Nationally, there is a trend of local and state governments adjusting their schedules to cut down on energy costs, said Angela Vincent, the director of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives' Northeast regional office in Boston.

The group - made up of nearly 900 communities across the globe, including Waltham, Boston and Springfield - works to help organize the efforts of local governments to implement environmentally friendly practices, including conservation and the reduction of greenhouse gases.

She said the federal Environmental Protection Agency offers flexible schedules for its workers. Some companies and cities cut back by having employees working 80 hours over nine days or shortening the week to four 10-hour work days. Another option is offering nontraditional hours, such as 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., to help avoid peak rush-hour traffic.

She said that groups that use such schedules have reported improved on-the-job training and productivity among employees.

Vincent, a trained planner, said transportation planners have encouraged these kinds of practices on the part of businesses and communities to ease traffic gridlock and reduce the amount of wasted fuel burned by vehicles idling in traffic.

"A lot of it is geared to the sustainability of workers as well," said Vincent.

But officials face balancing those cost concerns with the expectation that municipal governments will offer easy access to the public.

In Natick, demands on the town - which include a major regional mall and a developing condo complex on Rte. 9 - could make a shorter week difficult.

"Going to a four-day work week could take some doing," said White, who noted that closing the town for an extra day could block access to needed services such as Natick's Building Department.

In nearby Hopkinton, Town Manager Anthony Troiano said his town is looking to join an energy consortium called the Northeast Energy Partners to cut down on utility bills for all town buildings.

"Everyone's going to be looking at huge increases" for oil this winter, he said, adding that will be a problem for Hopkinton's aging Town Hall, which needs constant heat in the winter to keep pipes from freezing.

Officials could potentially implement a half-day on Fridays, and make up the hours with longer Tuesdays, when some workers are assigned to selectmen meetings, he said.

Ashland Town Manager John Petrin said the town has used a shortened Friday for a few years because of a limited budget - Friday hours are closed to the public so workers can get caught up on municipal business.

The town has had NStar evaluate the energy efficiency of its buildings, plus use of a new Town Hall and school buildings have helped control some costs, he said.

John Hilliard can be reached at 508-626-4449 or