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Clerk of court canít fill jobs after buyouts

By Shavonne Potts
spotts@salisburypost.com
There were food and well-wishes for Rowan County Clerk of Court employees who recently retired, but the loss didnít come without heartache.
The N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts in Raleigh sent a letter statewide to clerks of court, judges, magistrates and district attorneys detailing the voluntary buyouts meant to help with a $3.7 billion shortfall facing the General Assembly. Statewide, about 5,000 employees were eligible. By Feb. 28, their final work day, less than 10 percent took advantage. Employees only had less than a week to determine if they would take part.
In Rowan County, only two took part in the buyout and both were from the clerk of courtís office.
Clerk of Court Jeff Barger said he received the memo via e-mail and initially four people considered taking part. In the end, Earlene Sifford, an employee for 32 1/2 years, and Martha Carpenter, who was with the clerkís office more than 20 years, retired.
If employees took part in the early retirement/buyout, those positions couldnít be filled, Barger said.
ěThey told us it was up to the clerks if they granted it or not. We could deny it or they could take the severance package,î he said.
Since Barger allowed employees to take the early retirement package, his office lost those positions permanently. Both Sifford and Carpenter were supervisors, one acted as a backup for Barger. Heís had to train someone else in a short time.
ěThank goodness I didnít have more. Then I wouldíve had to make a decision. Iím already short-staffed and our caseloads continue to go up,î he said.
Barger said if he had to lose more positions, ěI could not have done it to the citizens of this county or put us in jeopardy of not being able to staff this office properly.î
Barger said many counties had to deny retirements.
ěHow do you tell somebody who has put in their heart and soul, they canít retire,î Barger said.
His office had already been on a one-year hiring freeze and a three-year salary freeze.
ěWe donít have staff now to do what we need to do,î he said.
The clerkís office was down five positions before the voluntary buyouts. The office is allowed to replace four of those five positions, Barger said.
ěBut the others, those two are permanent,î he said.
Full capacity with Rowan Countyís caseload should be between 42-45 employees. Rowan normally would have about 41 staff members, but now the clerkís office has 38.
The loss of staff means Barger has to put people in place who may not have covered a particular court.
ěI have had to meet with judges and the district attorney to say we are short staffed,î he said.
Barger said everyone has worked together to make the transition smooth.
The two women who took the severance packages wouldíve likely stayed longer. Only one was likely to retire in another two years, Barger said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.

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