Court clerk asks for funds to boost staff

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County Circuit Court clerk has asked the Board of Supervisors for money to boost staff to handle a high workload.

Whether or not supervisors intend to grant Clerk Sarona Irvin’s request for roughly $30,000 remains uncertain. Previous boards have denied such requests from the court at mid-fiscal year, with some supervisors arguing that other departments don’t ask for funding until budget discussions in the winter.

Irvin made her pitch to the board at its meeting Thursday as a non-action item. The board could revisit the request in the future.

The clerk not only requested funding for a full-time employee, but also spoke to the board about her plans to reorganize the office, both in terms of staff duties and the arrangement of the desks and other equipment, to better handle their duties and how they work with the public. The clerk also spoke about her office’s need for increased security measures.

Irvin provided the board with a breakdown of her office staff’s work and caseloads over the years since 2011. The office saw 1,437 criminal cases initiated in 2017 compared to 673 in 2011. The number of civil actions remained steady, around 500 since 2011. Her office records thousands of deeds and issues hundreds of concealed-weapons, passports and marriage licenses.

The office also has run on a staff deficit since 2011 and needed, according to an annual state study, more than two, full-time employees from 2014 through 2017 to adequately handle the workload. The state mandates that the clerk’s office handle more than 800 duties.

Irvin’s fiscal 2018 budget request included funding for two, full-time employees. Irvin also asked to free up funds by eliminating one of its three, part-time positions. The board approved in the spring a county budget that included funding for only one additional full-time employee in the clerk’s office and the elimination of the part-time position as requested.

“My staff continues to put in more than the regular hours,” Irvin said.

The clerk said she and her staff accumulated 1,391 compensatory hours in fiscal 2018.

Irvin said her office lacks tenured employees. Irvin has nearly 27 years of experience working in the office while her chief deputy clerk Cynthia Kibler and deputy clerk Karla Ortts have clocked in almost 22 years each with the court. But, as Irvin noted, the next most experienced worker, deputy clerk Andrea Harris, has almost three years in the office.

“So that was kind of eye-opening and being there 26 years myself, I still learn things every day,” Irvin said.

Staff turnover slows down production because new employees need training, Irvin said.

Office morale remains low as a result of the increased workload and staff shortage and turnover, the clerk said. Irvin warned the board that if her entire office staff left as of June 30, the county would have paid $16,799 in comp-time pay and $13,955 in unused annual leave – a total nearly equal that of the salary for a full-time employee.