Iowa State Public Defender announces mandatory furlough days

Move aims to address $457,481 budget shortfall

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In addressing a state budget shortfall, 223 Iowa State Public Defender employees have been informed they must take five unpaid furlough days before the end of June.

State Public Defender Adam Gregg sent a letter to employees Thursday explaining the furlough days are mandatory due to the $457,481 reduction announced as part of a de-appropriation bill signed by Gov. Terry Branstad in February that cut $117.8 million from the state’s 2017 budget.

“While we absorbed a relatively small cut compared to other state agencies, the reduction nonetheless presents a challenge, especially this late in the fiscal year, Gregg wrote in the letter. “You are also aware that until very recently, unlike most state agencies, we’ve been operating essentially at or near full (full-time equivalent) capacity.”

Gregg said Thursday in a phone interview the decision was made late Wednesday about how the cut to his office would be handled. He said furlough days are to make up for the budget shortfall and that all employees, including himself, must participate in order to achieve the savings.

“We ran a lean operation and we were under budget this year but when you have to make up for nearly half million dollars in three months, it was best to do this,” Gregg said. “A shared sacrifice is a better alternative than a permanent closure of one or more of the offices.”

There are 18 field offices across Iowa and one central administration office.

Mandatory furlough days are:

- Friday, April 14

- Monday, May 1

- Friday, May 26

- Friday, June 9

- Monday, June 26

During the furlough days, employees are to continue accruing vacation and sick leave.

Gregg in the letter advised employees to reschedule appointments for those furlough days.

In Linn and Johnson counties, about 30 employees will be affected by the furlough days. The Linn County Public Defender’s Office has 11 lawyers, three support staff and two investigators. In Johnson County, there are 10 lawyers, two investigators and two full-time and one half-time support staff members.

“Truthfully, we are just thankful that we are able to keep everyone,” Linn County Public Defender Brian Sisell said Thursday. “The furloughs are a sacrifice, but a small one considering what could have happened — layoffs.”

Johnson County Public Defender Peter Persaud said he has a great staff that knows how to handle all types of adversity.

“I’m confident that we will find our way through this difficult budget situation with continued zealous representation of our clients,” Persaud added.

The 1,446 court employees, except judges and magistrates, across the state must also take May 26 as a furlough day to save an estimated $364,573, court officials announced in January. The Judicial Branch expects it will be required to cut $3 million from its existing budget of about $180 million.

The de-appropriation bill, which cut into the state’s $7.2 billion general fund, were The tweaks to the state’s $7.2 billion general fund were necessary because of weaker than anticipated revenues, according to Branstad. As farm commodity prices dropped over the past year, the state Revenue Estimating Conference reduced its projections, prompting Branstad to call for spending reductions.

Earlier this month, following another reduction in projected revenue, it was announced that another $131.1 million would have to be slashed from this year’s budget. Branstad has said he plans to cover those reductions by tapping into Iowa’s cash reserves.

He hopes to put the money back into reserves during the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

"Truthfully, we are just thankful that we are able to keep everyone, the furloughs are a sacrifice, but a small one considering what could have happened — layoffs.”

- Brian Sisell

Linn County Public Defender

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