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Public feeling fallout from furlough days

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Friday was a furlough day for Placer County and the impact was being felt deep into a community used to open doors and personal contact five days a week. Wright Pierce stood in the near-empty parking lot outside North Auburn’s Placer County Sheriff’s Office and wondered aloud why he couldn’t get some help. “I got scammed for some money and I wanted to report it,” Pierce said. Pierce said he’d tried calling but each time was put on hold after he said it was a non-emergency. He didn’t think it was an emergency but thought it was still important enough for him to drive down to the Richardson Drive sheriff’s headquarters — only to find the doors locked and a furlough day in progress. The county has scheduled 12 days of office closures during the 2009-10 fiscal year that started last month. About 2,200 county employees take unpaid, mandatory time off. All county emergency response and 24-hour-a-day services, including the Sheriff’s Department, fire and child protective services, continued uninterrupted. For Pierce, he couldn’t honestly classify his situation as an emergency. So he was left Friday on the outside looking in. “I’d thought I’d come down and talk to someone face-to-face but this is ridiculous,” Wright said. “You’d think they’d at least have a sergeant sitting at a desk.” Lincoln’s Gary Budnic had business at the Placer County Assessor’s Office. He drove to the North Auburn office and found it shuttered for the day. He was willing to wait things out and return Monday. “It’s the situation now I guess,” Budnic said. “It’s something you have to deal with.” The impact was being felt at nearby businesses like Max’s Deli at Heritage Oak Place. Owner Max Berkowitz said the furlough days, which started earlier this year, have a major negative impact on business on the days they occur. Now he’s considering some kind of discount — perhaps a “Furlough Friday Special” — to boost eatery traffic during what is normally one of the busiest days of the week. Karen Okicica of Roseville had a real-estate grant deed to process at the county Clerk-Assessor’s Office. She was more fortunate. The office is classified as an essential service so it was open and able to help her Friday. But Okicica said she’s not happy the office closures are taking place. “You kind of expect government agencies are going to be available,” she said. “I do feel for the people who work for the government because they’re not the highest paid jobs to begin with.” County Clerk Jim McCauley was at work with a skeleton crew of employees. Keeping the office open is a strategic move that allows the county to continue to pick up an extra dollar per transaction by posting them on a daily state index, he said. As well as the extra revenue, the daily postings keep title companies on top of transactions and liens every day — including days when most other county offices are shut down. “It’s important that people process their paperwork,” McCauley said. Properly processed paperwork was important Friday for Don Pearson and Sid Wiley of Loomis. The two were at the county clerk’s office in North Auburn on Friday to take out a marriage license and deputize Wiley’s cousin Courtney Hans to perform the ceremony this coming week. The couple had made an appointment but were wondering what was up when they saw how few vehicles were parked outside the office. Half an hour later, they were set. “Because of our job schedules it would have been a problem if we couldn’t have done this today,” Pearson said. For Wright Pierce, though, it appeared he would have to wait out a weekend. The office with the marriage licenses wasn’t going to be of much help. “I’ve had one of those for 50 years,” Pierce said, as he prepared to return home. Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.