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Happy long weekend -- Just keep it cheap!
Furlough days have employees focusing on home, family or scrapbooking
Wanda Sutton, an avid scrapbooker, finds herself with a little more time each month for her hobby. Sutton is among many who have to take a day off each month without pay.

Taking off one extra day a month from work may seem like a great idea. But what if you didn’t get paid for it?

To cut expenses and avoid layoffs in the recent economic downturn, some businesses and governments, like Hall County, have started mandating furlough days.

That means Hall County employees have had to find inexpensive ways to spend an extra day out of the month. Some turn to yard work, others simply run errands.

Wanda Sutton, an administrative assistant with Hall County, said she spends her furlough days engulfed in her two favorite hobbies — scrapbooking and spending time with her son.

In fact, Sutton has been scrapbooking for about 12 years, and since October, she said, she’s had an extra day a month to focus on the hobby.

“I’m happy because I have a job. Some people don’t realize we do subdivisions and commercial,” she said. “I get to spend extra time with him (son Christian, 5) on furlough days. Other people in the office go golfing, scrapbook and spend time with family.”

The result of her extra time? Lots of memory books.

“I’ve done over 10 and one for my niece for Christmas,” said Sutton, who does all her own photography for them, too. “To me it’s important when Christian gets older to remember.”

Her pages are creative interpretations of motorcycle rides, trips to Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawsonville and family members getting tattoos. More recently, she’s started a scrapbook for the Hall County office for employees and visitors to enjoy.

Hall County decided to start furlough days in October. Linda Pryor, human resources director for the county, said the county tried to make furlough days as least obtrusive as possible for employees.

“All of our furlough days ... are tied to existing holidays, and I think that really helps employees,” she said. “It’s too bad that we are having to do it and everybody is losing money because of it, but having it tied to a holiday does provide us some benefit in that we can make travel plans or do whatever.”

Hall County Administrator Charlie Nix said he feels many employees are OK with pitching in, for the greater good.

“I think actually that folks have recognized and do want to do their part certainly to help us with our budget,” he said. “No one wants a furlough day but we’ve tried to create furlough days where they are sort of attached to other holidays and make them as family friendly as we can.”

Some county employees see the day off as simply an extra vacation day, Nix said. And, consider the alternative.

“I get a lot of comments that they appreciate us doing that than going to a heavy, heavy layoff situation.”

Pryor said her furlough days are “dull,” filled with errands and other things on her to-do list. Hall County Administrator Charlie Nix said he fills his time with more work.

“I hate to admit this, but most of the time I come to work,” Nix said. “I do take the opportunity to have a more relaxed day though.”

Unfortunately, Nix said the furlough days won’t be ending any time soon for county employees.

“In this budget coming up we are recommending they continue on for the next fiscal year,” he said. “We’ll obviously look at the economic situation — we do on a month-to-month basis — and we’ll determine when to lift them. The furlough will be one of the first things lifted, too.”

The furlough days that Hall County has enacted are part of the Expense Reduction Plan, which will save the county $1.7 million.

The most recent furlough day for the county was tacked on after the Memorial Day holiday on May 25. The four-day weekend was packed full of entertainment and family events for Hall County land use planner Chris Chavis.

“There are a lot of events in Atlanta that I plan on going to,” he said. “You have the Jazz Festival that’s going on, there is the Caribbean Festival ... Once again, Memorial Day itself will just be time spent with friends and family hanging out.”

Chavis said he has enjoyed his furlough days, which he’s used to travel.

“In the past I’ve used it as an extended vacation day ... Whether it be Florida, I got to Chicago often, I go to St. Louis.”

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