Board denies clerk’s funding request again

WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County leaders again denied the circuit court clerk’s request for money to keep a part-time worker on staff.

Clerk Denise Estep asked the Board of Supervisors to allocate $4,740 to her office to cover the salary of an employee through June. The money comes from the Supreme Court of Virginia, but now sits in the county’s general fund. Allocation of the funds requires board approval.

A motion to grant the request died on a 3-3 vote. Chairman David Ferguson and Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz voted in favor of the request. Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley and Supervisors Steve Baker and John R. “Dick” Neese voted against it.

The Supreme Court of Virginia compensates circuit courts for expenses paid to jurors in criminal trials; localities cover the costs for civil jury trials. Estep’s office recently discovered that a former employee mistakenly paid $4,740 in previous fiscal periods to jurors in criminal trials, the clerk explained. The high court reimbursed the county for the erroneous expense.

Ferguson said he struggled with the situation. He also reminded the board that it usually denies such department requests mid-fiscal cycle and suggest instead that agencies ask for funds during budget deliberations for the next period. Estep questioned Ferguson’s assertion.

“I guess my question is, you all have never re-appropriated money to anyone who needed it in special situations since any of you have been on the board?” Estep asked. “I’m not trying to cause you trouble for later on.”

Ferguson said some departments this year have asked the board to fund employees and supervisors have not necessarily granted those requests.

Estep pointed out that while the money from the state is in the general fund, the county wouldn’t have had it anyway. Ferguson said he’s argued the same point in the past but was told money in the general fund should remain in that part of the budget.

The clerk explained that the money could cover the part-time worker’s salary through June 30. Deputy Clerk Sarona Irvin told the board that office staff hoped the money could cover the salary at least until they could know whether or not the next budget would include the funds.

“So the workload is there,” Irvin said. “I realize that it may not be your norm but we’re really asking for that exception.”

Bailey supported the request, adding “I don’t think $4,740 to keep them whole ’til June is a lot to ask.”

Estep made a similar request in the fall, but for about $8,300 from the county’s coffers to keep a part-time worker on staff through June. A full-time worker went on unpaid leave and County Administrator Mary T. Price told the board she allowed Estep to use the savings to hire a part-time employee to fill in. The full-time worker returned in October but the clerk told the board in November that she needed the part-time employee to help handle the increasing workload. The board voted then to deny the appropriation, with opponents saying they feared setting a precedent.

At the meeting Tuesday, Neese reiterated his concerns about spending money for new positions mid-budget cycle. Estep reminded the board that the part-time employee has worked in her office since August.

Estep’s office operates with two fewer workers than recommended, the clerk has said. Helsley said the Department of Social Services is deficient by 15 employees.

Ferguson asked Price if she would approve future departmental requests to fill vacancies with temporary help given the recent situation.

“I may look at it a little bit different,” Price said. “This one’s put us in an awkward position, I think.”

“And I didn’t mean to put anyone in an awkward position,” Estep said. “All I’m doing is trying to run an office to the best that it can be run for you all, for your families, for your neighbors.

“I mean, you all need to take this into consideration: Everything that goes on in this county basically goes through my office and we’re not on a ‘we’re busy two months out of the year,’ we’re busy 12 months out of the year,” Estep added.

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