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City hall’s reduced hours help staff be productive and efficient, city says

City hall’s current hours will remain unchanged, as city administration says the reduced public access ensures employees can continue to be productive and efficient without facing regular interruptions.
city hall doors
Moose Jaw City Hall. (photo by Larissa Kurz)

City hall’s current hours will remain unchanged, as city administration says the reduced public access ensures employees can continue to be productive and efficient without facing regular interruptions.

The building’s past operational hours were 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the pandemic forced administration to change public access to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

That has remained even with the pandemic’s conclusion, although some residents have asked council to return to regular hours so the public can access the building earlier in the day.

City manager Maryse Carmichael provided a report during the June 10 regular meeting about why the current hours are appropriate.

Before the pandemic occurred, city administration began modernizing how it assisted residents and businesses with the goal of providing efficient, accessible and convenient services, she said. The pandemic accelerated those changes, as the city offered more online access to services, gave staff greater remote work capabilities and reduced in-person public access. 

“As a result of these changes, there has been an increase in productivity and efficiencies, and they continue to remain in place,” Carmichael stated, while there have also been reductions in security concerns and overtime costs.

City hall is continuing to improve access to public services, including with the upcoming release of the new Virtual City Hall and putting online many other in-person services, she said. 

Carmichael noted that there are several advantages to offering services online, including convenience, cost efficiency, the ability to reach larger audiences, accessibility, speed, flexibility and data management. 

All departments have experienced benefits from the reduced hours, including time to focus on work and accomplish it with fewer interruptions, while the productivity gains are real and enable the municipality to deliver its services and programs effectively, she said. 

The finance department — which includes the customer service area — has also experienced several benefits, as staff:

  • Have time to balance cash drawers rather than leaving them for the next day or incurring overtime 
  • Have time to prepare for opening and closing
  • Who work in taxation and the water utility have nearly two hours before opening or one hour after closing to focus on bill preparation and review of accounts
  • Can process online transactions
  • Can have team meetings 

The number of in-person customers has declined by roughly one-third since pre-pandemic, which shows that extending the public hours would not make sense and would reduce productivity gains, said Carmichael. 

“We have received a small number of complaints from senior residents, for sure, but we believe that the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. are still sufficient because oftentimes there are certain seniors coming who don’t have the same time restrictions as some other residents in the city do have,” she continued.

Even though in-person access is limited, all department staff are available by phone or email from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m., while city hall is open over lunch, the city manager remarked.

If city hall extended its hours to 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m., the cost to have commissionaires would be $1,495 monthly or $17,943 annually, while extending hours to 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. would cost $822 and $9,869, respectively, Carmichael added. 

Carmichael recommended that city hall’s business hours for in-person public access remain from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday, excluding statutory holidays. 

Council voted 4-3 to accept that motion, with Mayor Clive Tolley and councillors Crystal Froese, Heather Eby and Dawn Luhning in favour and councillors Jamey Logan, Kim Robinson and Doug Blanc opposed. 

Eliminate the commissionaires 

The financial expenses are mostly for security, so maybe the city doesn’t need the commissionaires anymore because they were hired during the pandemic when some residents were “being a little unruly,” Robinson said.

He wondered if city hall had a history of incidents that the commissionaires stopped or prevented, while he thought there would not be increased financial costs with longer hours if there were no security guards.

Security is important

Carmichael pointed out that having security is important, as shown by an incident at Edmonton city hall several months ago where someone fire-bombed the building. Moreover, someone went upstairs in Moose Jaw’s building about six weeks ago, so that shows it’s important to control public access. 

Meanwhile, she said that while the building’s hours are reduced, developers can still make in-person appointments with staff or directors before and after those times. If staff know a developer is coming, they will let that person in. 

Brian Acker, finance director, said his staff have experienced a significant change in customer behaviour with the presence of security, as residents are more respectful and business-like. Meanwhile, for everyone’s overall safety, it’s important to know who comes into the building and whether those persons have left.

He also noted that the way people access services and pay bills has changed, as people either go online or drop off envelopes after hours. However, city hall has accessible hours for services requiring in-person contact. 

Conduct a poll

The commissionaires are there just to observe, so it’s questionable how they would protect staff if an incident occurred, said Robinson. He thought this situation could be resolved by returning to regular hours and having staff rotate their schedule. 

Robinson noted that he worked in the restaurant/hotel industry and regularly had staff performing cashouts, doing paperwork and preparing to start while customers were present, so it is possible. He added that an online poll on showed 86 per cent of respondents wanted a return to regular hours.

Carmichael said that while she couldn’t comment on the poll, she noted that administration has received “very few complaints” about the current hours. Meanwhile, the city could look at conducting its own poll and acquiring feedback that way.

Tweak the hours

Several people have told Blanc that they want to visit city hall to pay bills or ask questions, but it’s difficult when the building opens at 10 a.m. However, he understood that staff needed time at day’s end for other responsibilities, which could be difficult if a customer arrived at 4:55 p.m.

Blanc wondered if it would be possible to tweak the hours to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., while, on one or two days a week, the building could be open later in the evenings.

City administration looked at closing on one evening at 5 p.m., but there weren’t many requests for that time, said Carmichael. Also, if council wanted city hall to close later, options existed.

More public consultation

Froese was concerned about where council would find the money if it expanded the hours since this would be an unbudgeted action. She also wondered if extra staff would need to be hired since city hall hadn’t operated at regular hours for several years. 

Furthermore, she thought more public consultation was required, pointing out that council had “an extreme amount of engagement” with residents about garbage pickup either in back alleys or in front of homes. That issue led to hundreds of emails and packed council chambers — unlike this issue.

“There have been a very small amount of complaints and I really haven’t heard from many people at all,” Froese said. “I ask, does the general public really want us to … change it back?”

She added that council should discuss this at budget time since it involved money and required more consultations. 

In response, Acker said there is no money available since the city is halfway through the budget year. Money would have to come from savings, otherwise, the municipality risks facing a deficit. 

Act like a business

Eby didn’t think the reduced hours diminished the city’s ability to provide quality service, pointing out that people can call, email, arrive by 10 a.m. or come at lunch. 

“So … there might be a higher increased level of service with the things we are able to get done in those shoulder times (of 8:15 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 5 p.m.),” she added. “… If staff get here by 8:15 a.m. and the doors are open, then it makes it pretty crazy.”

Logan said that if city hall wanted to be more business-like, it should be open longer like a regular business, especially one with 11,000 tax-paying customers. He supported 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while he pointed out that in-person traffic is down because the building has been open three fewer hours than pre-pandemic.

The next regular council meeting is Monday, June 24. 

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