Guest Column: County should reduce temperature inside its buildings

Editor’s note: The following guest column is written by Contributing Writer Paula Hendrickson, who writes the “Tube Talk” column for The Rock River Times’ Vibe Entertainment section.

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

I was recently at the Winnebago County building at 404 Elm for a property tax protest hearing (I lost — apparently in Winnebago County being located on a block with three foreclosures makes property more valuable than nearby homes not surrounded by foreclosures, but I digress). I took off my coat, hat, gloves and scarf but was roasting as I waited for my hearing. At first, I thought it might be because of nerves, then I noticed none of the workers was really dressed for winter — there wasn’t a cardigan among them.

When I got home, I e-mailed Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen about the overheated office and included a Tweet from Citizens Utility Board (CUB) saying that reducing the thermostat just 1 degree can save the average homeowner bundles of money per year. According to CUB’s website: “In most homes, you can save about 2 percent of your heating bill for each degree that you lower the thermostat.” I strongly suggested he require all county offices to lower thermostats at least 1 degree and encourage employees to bring a sweater to work.

I never got a direct reply, but Christiansen passed my comments along to Sally Claassen, Winnebago County Purchasing and Facilities director, who oversees building maintenance. She said it’s county policy to keep all of its buildings at 71 degrees during office hours (the heat only kicks in overnight if the indoor temperature drops to 58). I was shocked and more than a bit appalled to learn their daytime heat is several degrees higher than anyone I know can afford. The only places I can think of that need to be heated to 70 or above are retirement homes or doctors’ offices.

Claassen said that because county employees are at their desks all day, they don’t move around enough to keep warm. (I sit at my desk all day and wear a sweater.) She was polite and thanked me for bringing it to her attention, apologized that I was uncomfortable with how hot the building was, and said “… the county does as much as possible to save dollars wherever and whenever we possibly can,” and said she will bring the topic up in future discussions.

I’m not good with math, but given CUB’s projected 2 percent per degree, imagine how many taxpayer dollars could be saved each winter if all county buildings set thermostats back to a still toasty 68. If CUB’s figures hold true, that could save the county 6 percent on heating costs per month.

I’m sorry, but when taxpayers are footing the bill — especially in tough economic times — heating county offices to 71 degrees is a blatant waste of taxpayer dollars. Makes one wonder what temperatures city and state offices are.

Paula Hendrickson is a Rockford resident.

From the Feb. 15-21, 2012, issue

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