Board denies court clerk’s request for part-time funds

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County’s Circuit Court staff might need to handle an ever-increasing workload without one of their own next year.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 last week to deny a request by court Clerk Denise Barb-Estep for an additional $8,293 to keep a part-time worker on staff through June 30.

The clerk’s office has enough money to cover the worker’s salary through the end of the month, Barb-Estep said Monday. After that, the clerk said she doesn’t know what her office can do to keep the worker on the payroll.

The circuit court currently operates at 1.62 employees below the recommended staffing number, Barb-Estep has said, noting that this number reflects only the caseload and filings, not time workers spend with the public. While the state pays the salaries of the full-time workers in her office, the clerk said she does not expect to receive any help at this point. The county also covers some of her office’s expenses.

The Board of Supervisors several years ago required the circuit court and two other constitutional officers to reduce their budgets by $50,000 apiece — essentially cutting one full-time position, Barb-Estep recalled.

The court’s caseload has more than doubled in the past three years, Barb-Estep has explained. The number of criminal cases increased from 673 in 2011 to 996 in 2012 and 1,498 in 2013. The clerk said she expects the office to get busier. The court dealt with 910 criminal cases by the end of October 2013 and 981 criminal cases as of the last term day this October, according to the clerk.

At the meeting, Supervisor Cindy Bailey made the motion to approve the request, seconded by Supervisor Marsha Shruntz. Their fellow board members did not support the motion but acknowledged that the clerk showed the need is there.

County Administrator Mary T. Price reminded the board that the clerk’s office saved some money when a full-time worker went on unpaid leave.

Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese and other members expressed empathy for the clerk but said they couldn’t support funding the request midway through the year.

“Mr. Chairman, not saying she doesn’t need it, it’s hard for me to add additional personnel, no matter what department, in the middle of a budget cycle,” Neese said.

Members of the Social Services Board learned that the county’s Department of Social Services operates with 20 fewer employees than recommended, Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley said. Director Carla Taylor is expected to include this information in her report this month, Helsley said. The director won’t likely ask for more employees until the spring when supervisors begin to look at the next fiscal budget, he added.

“It’s a tough call,” Helsley said.

All county departments, not including public safety, have cut staff in the past 10 years, Chairman David Ferguson said.

“We are struggling to staff appropriately and that’s going to be a big discussion when we get into the next budget cycle as to how do we address this,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson acknowledged that the circuit court has a high workload.

“But if we were to open it up to every department to come and ask for people right now I imagine every one of them would be in there and wanting to do that and what do you do?” Ferguson said. “If they pled their case would you add a person? I don’t know. I think the appropriate time to do it is at the budget cycle.”

Bailey said she disagreed with Ferguson and pointed out the office has not recovered the full-time employee the county cut from the court’s budget. Bailey said this is one situation in which the board should deal with separately from other mid-cycle requests.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com