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Paonia to hire staff to avoid shortening town hall hours

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The Town of Paonia will advertise for a full-time position after trustees unanimously approved the hiring of a full-time office staff member at the May 22 board meeting. With that hiring, administration will not close Town Hall on Fridays as had been discussed at previous meetings.

The board considered several options, including hiring a part-time staff member and closing Town Hall on Fridays, and hiring a full-time staff member and closing the office all day or half days on Friday. The previous board approved funding for a part-time staff member in the 2018 budget. That position has gone unfilled.

Town administrator Ken Knight has administrative authority to close the office on Fridays, but turned to the board for guidance. With the town clerk requesting the day off to deal with family matters, Knight was considering closing the office last Friday to give the clerk a day off and allow the finance officer to focus solely on the audit. Hiring a full-time staff member would allow the office to remain open in these situations, said Knight.

The town staff's preference, said Knight, is to hire a part-time person to answer phones and greet the public, and take Fridays off while the office is closed. "If the office is to remain open on Fridays, then we do need to look at a full-time staff person," said Knight.

Public comment reflected the opinion that with the passage of a one-percent sales tax in April's election, slated to take affect July 1, the community has approved a staffing increase, but the town shouldn't be cutting its services.

"Closing the office on Friday thwarts the public from accessing information," said former trustee Suzanne Watson. Visitors to town also often arrive on Fridays and look to Town Hall for information.

"I really think the idea of getting another clerk in there is fabulous and warranted," said Paonia resident Jakki Taylor. As for closing the office on Fridays, Taylor said she's aware through experience of the need for quiet time, and asked the board to consider half-day closures on Friday instead. "I think that would be a lot easier to swallow."

Trustee Chelsea Bookout first raised the idea of closing the office on Fridays. "I think that we have an issue where we have staff that has a very particular skill set, and we're paying them to do a particular job," said Bookout. In having them answer phones, take payments and greet the public, "I believe we're asking them to do something that is below their skill set."

In addition, she said, the town misses out on grants and other financial opportunities because they are so busy. "I think in the long run that's not serving the town of Paonia." With the town's population increasing by almost 300 in the last year and a half and the updating of the comprehensive plan in the discussion phase, "It inevitably means more work for them."

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