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Dorchester clerks propose closing office on Fridays

Dorchester’s clerks told the village board last week that keeping their office open for nearly eight hours every Friday is a waste of money, since almost no one comes in or calls on that day of the week.

Board members, however, were reluctant to permanently close the clerk’s offi ce on Fridays, since village residents and contractors working on road projects may still need to come in for help.

“Friday is a normal business day,” said trustee Julie Goldschmidt, noting that the clerks should be available for customer service if needed.

Clerk-treasurer Michelle Dunn, however, said Fridays are always “dead” at the office, leaving her with little to do.

“I can’t justify wasting the village’s money, sitting there and doing nothing but busy work,” she said.

Dunn noted that she was hired to work 35 hours per week, which allows her to be at the office for eight hours a day, Monday through Thursday, and leaves three hours for training, ideally on Fridays.

Normal office hours for the clerk’s office on Parkside Drive are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. When statewide COVID-19 restrictions went into effect in March, the office was closed on Fridays, but it has since reopened.

Deputy clerk-treasurer Christie Erikson said it costs the village $7,280 per year to keep the office open on Fridays, and after five years, that would provide $36,000 in savings.

“That’s a ridiculous amount of money to spend on the off-chance that someone needs to be here at 4 o’clock on a Friday,” she said.

Village president Kurt Schwoch, however, said Dorchester’s previous elected officials hired a deputy clerk and set up the current schedule so that the office would be open in case contractors and vendors needed to meet with a village offi cial on Fridays.

“Past boards worked hard to get it staffed five days a week,” he said.

Erikson noted that most contractors and vendors actually need to speak with the public works crew rather than the clerks. However, both she and Dunn said they are willing to be there on Fridays during certain times of the year, such as right before elections and when people are paying their property taxes.

Part of the discussion focused on Dunn’s decision not to take a lunch break Monday through Friday. She said it’s nearly impossible for her to do that without interruptions, because people expect her to be available and answer the phones while she is in the building.

Some board members thought she may be legally required to take a break during her shift, but it was unclear which labor standards applied.

Erikson, who is not in the office every day, suggested that the board try closing the office on Friday and see if there are any complaints from the public.

Ultimately, no action was taken on the proposal, which was originally recommended by the board’s employee committee.

The board also took no action on a recommendation to remove an old residency requirement in the employee handbook, which requires village employees to live within a 15-mile radius of the village.

Under state law, Schwoch said this requirement can only be applied to “emergency personnel,” which he believes only applies to the police chief.

“It’s illegal to require residency for non-emergency personnel,” he said. “It should have been taken out years ago.”

Trustee Daniella Schauer, however, wondered if “emergency personnel” shouldn’t also apply to public works crew members who may needed to respond to an incident within a short time.

Right now, only one village employee lives more than 15 miles outside village limits, but Schwoch noted that the board has interviewed a potential employee who lived as far away as Rib Lake.

Utility operator Rick Golz noted that public works employee who are on call during the weekends stay within an hour’s drive in case of an emergency.

A question was also raised about applying the residency requirement to the village’s part-time police officer, who currently lives in Wausau. Police chief Gary Leichtman said it’s unlikely the village will ever find a part-time officer that lives that close to Dorchester.

That left open the possibility that only the police chief would be subject to the residency requirement.

“I’m OK with this, but it sure sounds discriminatory to me,” said Leichtman, who lives in the village.

The issue was tabled until the board could get more information about legal definition of “emergency employees.”

Other employee-related matters

The following recommendations from the employee were approved:

_ A temporary sick leave policy that allows employees to be paid their full wages for two week if they contract COVID- 19 and must be quarantined at home.

_ A reduction in the new employee probationary period, from six months down to 90 days.

_ Removal of language in the employee handbook related to taking away comp time from employees who have already earned it.

Other business

_ After meeting in closed session, the board approved a $1 hourly raise for clerk Michelle Dunn, bringing her up to $19 per hour.

_ Chief Leichtman said the lower attendance at this year’s scaled-down Dorchester Days resulted in less criminal activity and fewer incidents.

_ The board voted to have Stockwell’s auction off the village’s old Ventrac lawnmower, with a minimum asking price of $9,000.

_ The board accepted a $2,490 proposal from Liquid Engineering to inspect, clean and repair the village’s 25,000-gallon water reservoir.

_ The board approved the creation of an ad-hoc committee to handle updating the village’s ordinance book, with the members being trustees Keith Lageman and Daniella Schauer, village president Kurt Schwoch and Chief Leichtman.

_ The board voted to name the building at 250 Parkside Drive, which includes the clerk’s offices and board chambers, as the “Dorchester Municipal Building.”

_ The board approved a five-year capital improvement plan developed by MSA Professional Services and recommended by the planning commission. The plan will be used to plan future projects and help procure funding for the work.

_ The board voted to survey an area on the southeast corner of the village near the water tower, before agreeing to extend Fourth Avenue to the east and an unnamed road to the south, which would likely commit the village to maintaining those stretches of road.