Starting Monday, the city of Las Vegas will change operating hours for many services and City Hall will be closed on Fridays, meaning people who need certain services must obtain them during longer operating hours during the rest of the week or go online.
It's a cost-saving measure to help the city's budget balance, and city leaders have stressed that Las Vegas could return to normal operations easily if the economy improves.
But a four-day work week has proven popular where it's been adopted, such as in North Las Vegas and Henderson, and it could easily take root in Las Vegas -- even though, for now, it also comes with a 5 percent pay cut for affected employees.
"If four days works well, the city may want to stay on it," said Don King, president of the Las Vegas City Employees Association, the largest union of city workers and the one affected by the new schedule.
"It's a two-year deal, and at the end of two years, who knows? There are some advantages to being on it for both sides."
Mayor Oscar Goodman, however, noted that city management can bring back a five-day work week without further negotiation with the bargaining unit, and said he hopes the financial picture improves enough to make that possible.
"Unilaterally, we could go back to a five-day work week," he said. "This has already been agreed upon. If the city says five days, it's five days."
Goodman has always opposed plans to close City Hall one day a week, one of many solutions proffered since the economy went into a recession and tax revenues slumped.
"My druthers are to have City Hall open five days a week," he said. "I'm sick that we have to close even a little bit on Fridays. We'll adjust to the finances of our times."
Under the new schedule, many of the city's administrative functions -- business licensing, planning and development services or the city clerk's office, for example -- will be available 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and closed Friday.
"The city's doing what the city has to do," said Cara Roberts, spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. "The reality is that the citizens are getting fewer services for their money."
The chamber has released studies showing that while Nevada's public employee ranks are lean when compared to population, those workers are also among the best paid in the nation.
"Obviously, there's a finite amount of money and their hands are tied by collective bargaining agreements," Roberts said, referring to city officials. "The real issue here are the collective bargaining agreements."
The city chose Friday after a survey of city departments said that's the slowest day for customer demand, said city spokeswoman Diana Paul.
Other essential functions -- fire, ambulance, law enforcement and animal control, corrections, sewer service and the Municipal Court -- will not be affected. City parks, pools and recreational facilities will remain open.
The city will maintain a call center on Fridays to deal with questions and there will be staff available to handle graffiti complaints, traffic safety and maintenance concerns, and building inspections.
The new schedule is expected to save $20 million to $24 million over the next 2½ years.
"The public will be responded to," Goodman said. "That's a promise that I've received from the manager's office.
"The electeds (City Council members and the mayor) will be available with their staffs seven days a week, as we always are. The manager's office and the department heads, nobody's going home on Fridays."
Public entities that have adopted a four-day schedule have found it to be a perk and a money-saver.
North Las Vegas went to a four-day schedule with 10-hour days in 1988. Steve Harney, vice president of Teamsters Local 14, which represents North Las Vegas Employees, said it cut down overtime costs, reduced absenteeism, cut down on utilities and made employees happy.
"I would tell you that the people in North Las Vegas wouldn't want to go back" to a five-day week, he said.
Employees like condensing their work week and having an extra day for appointments and errands, and the longer hours during the other weekdays allow members of the public to access city services before and after work, for example.
Henderson adopted a four-day-a-week schedule in 1983 as a response to declining tax revenues, although the city staggered shifts or used reduced staffing to keep offices open on Friday. In 2009, faced with low revenues again, the city decided to close City Hall on Friday and operate offices 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
In addition to similar benefits to North Las Vegas', the schedule is also a recruiting tool for the city, said spokeswoman Kathy Blaha.
Henderson, like Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, offers many City Hall services online.
So does the state of Utah, which launched a four-day schedule in 2008. It turned out to be popular with the public and employees, although the cost saving results were mixed.
Utah hired a polling firm to assess the results, and found that 66 percent of respondents from the public viewed the schedule favorably. A separate survey by the state's human resources department reported that 82 percent of employees on the "4/10" schedule wanted to stay on it.
Overtime in the state's executive branch agencies declined 30 percent, and employees used leave less frequently.
Cost savings totaled about $900,000, which was far lower than predicted. The state projected saving $3 million in utilities simply by having many state buildings closed on Fridays.
For Las Vegas, the expected savings comes from employees working 38 hours a week instead of 40. The city also closed during the week of Christmas, and Employees Association members were not paid for that week.
They also agreed to give up raises in 2011 and 2012. Union members, who knew they faced layoffs if cuts weren't implemented, approved the contract change 635-75.
"We always wanted a four-day work week," said Angie Horn, an office specialist who works in the city's planning department. "We wanted it to be a 40-hour work week.
"Nobody's happy about having to take a pay cut, but it's certainly better to take a two-hour pay cut than to have no income at all."
Part of her job involves answering calls on the department's switchboard, and people have been calling to confirm when the new schedule takes effect.
"They're aware of it," Horn said. "I think everybody just sees it as part of the changing times to meet financial budgets and keep things going as best you can."
King said four-day schedules already exist for some employees, who work four 10-hour days or a more complicated arrangement that provides a three-day weekend every other week. "Those who are on a longer schedule -- they love 'em," he said.
Those perhaps most affected by the change, besides employees, are people in the development community who deal with the city on a regular basis.
They've taken a practical attitude toward the change, which is easier to handle because of the experience of dealing with North Las Vegas and Henderson.
"We're used to it," said Tabitha Fiddyment, an attorney who specializes in land use, zoning and administrative law. "We're kind of all in the economic boat together. If that's what we need to do, we'll accommodate."
And one of the reasons the city is making the change is there's just not as much business to be conducted as there used to be, said Monica Caruso of the Southern Nevada Homebuilders Association.
"We're doing very little building -- about 5,000 homes a year, compared to our recent growth average of about 19,000 a year," she said. "We don't anticipate there's going to be too much of an impact to our local building industry."
Architect Richard Kohler said most firms already try to wrap up any necessary contacts with the city by Friday morning and said "the difference will be minimal."
"I haven't heard any real backlash about it," he said. "It really amounts, to most firms, to a half-day inconvenience at most. It probably won't increase processing time.
"I think it makes some sense. If the city thinks it can save some money that way, we're part of the industry and we can help."
Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@ reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.