VERONA — The Augusta County Board of Supervisors agreed Wednesday to add more than $300,000 to the county’s 2020 fiscal year budget for additional staffing serving local courts, but not before a bit of discussion on whether all the new jobs should be full or part time.
The funds were needed to pay the salaries of new positions for the Augusta County Circuit and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts, and the Augusta County Clerk of Circuit Court, Sheriff’s and Commonwealth’s Attorney offices.
During this year’s session, the General Assembly directed judges in the 25th Judicial Circuit to hear more cases in Augusta. The circuit also includes courts in Waynesboro, Staunton and Buena Vista, as well as Alleghany, Bath, Botetourt, Craig Highland and Rockbridge counties.
Starting next month, Augusta County Circuit Court will start running two full-time dockets four days a week with an additional session each week in one courtroom for a total of nine weekly sessions. That nearly doubles the five sessions that are now heard each week.
In addition, JDR court will increase its caseloads by two dockets a week.
The decision to add to the courts’ caseloads occurred after the county had finished its budget process for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Supervisors were asked to add two clerks to the Augusta County Clerk of Circuit Court’s Office at a cost of $99,814: two attorneys to the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office at a cost of $160,411; and two court security officers in the Sheriff’s Office at a cost of $101,438. The total request was just more than $361,000.
The budget request came before the board at its June 12 meeting, but supervisors voted to table the item for more review before taking it up again Wednesday.
Supervisors Pam Carter, Mike Shull and Butch Wells questioned if some of the positions requested for the three offices could be part- rather than full-time staff, at least for now.
“It’s a whole lot easier to elevate a part-time person to full time than it is of eliminate a full-time position or reduce that to a part-time [position],” Wells said.
Carter suggested looking at hiring part-time staff now and revisiting the issue during the next budget cycle, waiting “until we figure out what the usage is going to be. … Right now, we are just projecting, we think we know.”
When the discussion turned to the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office, Shull motioned to making one part-time position full time and adding a full-time investigator instead of adding two full-time attorneys.
But Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Martin, who was in attendance, told the board that his office would be put in an “untenable position” without at least one more full-time attorney. Without another attorney, Martin said, his office would be unable to staff all the added court sessions.
“It would put us in a position where we just won’t have the attorneys to cover what we need to cover,” he said, noting his office also provides services representing the state and victims in General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts.
Martin said he understood his request created a bit of “sticker shock” for the board but assured supervisors he asked for the positions “because they are needed and not spending the county’s money frivolously.”
Following Martin’s input, the board reached a compromise in which one new full-time attorney was added as well as that of an investigator, reducing the total appropriation for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office by $30,000 to about $130,000.
Supervisor Carolyn Bragg, who is running for the clerk of court seat in November, abstained from the discussion and vote on the request for additional personnel for that office.