This was a four-day weekend for many workers in the state court system, thanks to an unpaid furlough last Friday. It was the last of 8 weekdays scheduled during this fiscal year that the clerk-of-court offices were locked to cope with a budget shortfall, and next year the furloughs will not be repeated. That’s according to Iowa State Court Administrator David Boyd, who found himself with the responsibility of recommending the closings, a year ago at this time. Over about 5 years, funding for the courts had been cut by more 20-Million dollars. The courts had cut their workforce by laying off about 11-percent of the staff and Boys says “It came to a point where we really couldn’t afford to lay more people off, and we have to find a way to sort of all do it together.” The solution was to close the offices on days that normally would be working days, sending court employees home for unpaid vacation. They tried to ease the burden on the public by picking days on or adjacent to adjacent to a federal or county holiday, when people might expect the offices to be closed anyway. Last Friday, for instance, was chosen to coincide with the long holiday weekend. Though they tried to get word of the closings out to users who come to district clerk of courts to pay a fine or do other court business, it was inconvenient for users. Boyd says it’s been a strain on the court offices, too. It’s one thing to have a day off, he points out, and it’s another thing to not be paid for that day. “But the real reality hits the next day our offices are open, because the work has not gone away.” People have been arrested and their cases need to be processed. There’s more mail after a day when the office has been closed, and on a day after a closing there may be as much as twice as many people coming through the courthouse. It’s a real strain on staff across the state, he says. Friday was the last closing for the fiscal year, which ends June 30. Barring some economic crisis that’s not foreseen now, there will not be closings of any court offices in the fiscal year that begins July 1, Boyd says, and there won’t be any layoffs. Lawmakers this session did increase funding for the courts, and Boyd says while this was the first time the state had to close court offices for lack of funding, he hopes it’ll be the last.
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