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State Court judge asks for no furloughs

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- The head of Dougherty County State Court pleaded with government leaders Monday to spare his office from planned employee furloughs.

County leaders are considering requiring some employees to take 12 unpaid furlough days during Fiscal Year 2011, which begins July 1, in the face of declining sales and property tax revenues.

During Monday's Finance Committee meeting, State Court Judge John Salter asked commissioners to allow him the opportunity to put together enough a plan that would enable him to avoid furloughing his employees.

"I find furlough days proposed in my budget to be unacceptable," Salter said, "... the proposition I'm making does necessarily mean a reduction in force of contract workers; of the folks who are contracted to do the court reporting services. The other contract employees are our jurors who are already grossly underpaid but who should be delighted to come in service their community in seeking justice."

Salter -- whose office employs what he called a core staff of three employees -- said that he's prepared to juggle the schedule of court in a way that would reduce the need for a third court reporter and would reduce the pay for jurors if it meant sparing his workers.

The other issue, according to Salter, is adhering to state law.

If, as proposed, his office is required to shut down completely one day each month, Salter says that he would be in violation of state law, which requires the office to be open five days per week.

"If you give me one extra vacation day that isn't recognized by the state, I have to keep that office open or violate state law," Salter said.

The current plan under consideration would shut down all non-emergency and public safety departments during nine existing holidays and three additional days to be staggered through the remaining months so that there is only one day each month during which employees will be furloughed.

The heads of the remaining departments -- Dougherty County Police, the Dougherty Sheriff's Office and the Dougherty County EMS -- will establish their own monthly furlough system in which every employee will be furloughed each month, but at staggered intervals to avoid a reduction in service.

EMS will only be required to furlough their nine holidays because any additional time would likely result in the county going down one ambulance, County Administrator Richard Crowdis has said.

Salter argued that his court, and indeed the court system as a whole, also is a vital and essential service that should be given consideration.

"Let us define government in terms of essential services, and do that and do it well," Salter said. "It is the branch of government that holds a fractured society together."

Finance Committee Chairman Lamar Hudgins said that the committee and the commission as a whole are trying to be as flexible as possible amid some harsh economic realities.

"We have to be, (flexible) so that things like emergency service are still covered," Hudgins said. "I'm sure everyone will cooperate the best they can and we'll come to a resolution."