Buyouts at the courthouse, layoffs could be ahead

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Wake County court staff got news Tuesday that the state is offering people within five years of retirement buyout packages. Superior Court Clerk Lorrin Freeman told the Record that she worries that the court could have to start laying off people in the next six months.

The Wake County court budget—and court budgets across North Carolina—comes from the state Administrative Office of the Courts. The state is facing a $3.7-billion budget deficit.

In a memo sent out to clerks, district attorneys and chief judges across the state Monday, AOC Director Judge John Smith called the budget situation a “looming crisis.”

Smith continued: “It would be irresponsible not to prepare for the possibility, which now seems more likely than not, that our current strategies will be inadequate to meet the projected deficit; and we would then be placed in the position of having to suddenly eliminate filled positions when the new budget for the next biennium is finally adopted in July.”

Wake County’s Freeman said she expects about five people to take the buyout offer, but she said she doesn’t know when she will be able to fill those positions again.

Freeman said she got notice from the state Monday night and people within five years of retirement will have until Friday to decide whether or not to take the offer. Feb. 28 will be the last day for anyone who opts to take the buyout.

“I think ‘voluntary’ is the key word here,” Freeman said. “This will probably change people’s time frames for retirement.”

Freeman said the buyout is “a good deal” for people close to retirement because they will receive their retirement benefits and a severance package.

Wake County Chief District Court Judge Robert Rader said he had one employee considering taking the buyout.

Rader said he is “very anxious” about the budget and what he called the “total uncertainty at this point what the cuts will be.”

He said the buyouts are most attractive for employees nearing retirement, but, he said, the short 4-day window to make the decision made it more difficult.

The buyouts were also offered to staff in the Wake County superior court and district attorneys offices, but neither could be reached immediately for comment.

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