Court clerks’ woes, the shutdown in Charlottesville, and a park rejection: News briefs

Albemarle Circuit Court Clerk Debra M. Shipp. Photo: Charlottesville Tomorrow. Albemarle Circuit Court Clerk Debra M. Shipp. Photo: Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Check daily and pick up a copy of the paper Wednesday for the latest Charlottesville and Albemarle news.

Auditors find errors in Circuit Court Clerks’ offices

State officials are again reporting costly internal errors in the Albemarle County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, according to a report in The Daily Progress.

A state audit reveals that between January 2012 and March 2013, Clerk Debra M. Shipp’s office held hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of potential unclaimed property and passed on more than $2,000 in tax refunds, among other problems. Out of 53 sample cases, 14 showed errors, according to the audit.

Despite having a clean audit last year, Charlottesville Circuit Court Clerk Llezelle Dugger’s office was also found to have held on to more than $100,000 in possible unclaimed property and had errors in 25 of 41 sample cases.

Dugger told The Daily Progress her staff had been stretched thin by efforts to digitize records, but that all errors had been corrected. Shipp, whose office has been cited for serious errors for four straight years since she became clerk five years ago, said chronic understaffing has led to nearly impossible workloads for county court employees.

Shipp, who is paid $138,743 a year, and Dugger, who receives a $110,832 annual salary, hold constitutional offices that go to a vote every eight years.

Partial federal shutdown hits close to home for some

Now that the federal game of chicken has come to a head, everyone’s thinking the same thing: How will this affect me?

“Essential” government services will remain in operation. That means mail delivery will continue and air traffic controllers at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport are still on the job. But traveling will be a challenge for many, as visa applications to visit the U.S. are put on hold, passport applications are frozen, and national parks like Shenandoah will close and ask lodgers to go elsewhere. According to The Daily Progress, the National Ground Intelligence Center and Defense Intelligence Agency will still operate, but civilian employees could face furloughs.

Criminal investigations and federal court trials will continue, according to local reports, but courthouse employees not associated with the criminal division will be furloughed.

Governor Bob McDonnell has said as many as one-third of Virginia’s federal workers will be forced to stay home without pay, according to local reports. That would mean fewer tax dollars flowing into state coffers.

County declines gift of land for park

Albermarle county recently declined a 410-acre gift of land along Route 29 in Red Hill, but officials have indicated they may say yes to another parcel adjacent to the nearby Ragged Mountain Natural Area.

According to Charlottesville Tomorrow, staff and supervisors said the county didn’t have the resources to maintain the land offered by owners Montgomery “Bird” Woods and Jose V. Lambert. The plot is home to an unusual rock outcrop plant habitat that staff say represents an important area of biodiversity within the county.

Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy told CT it hopes to transfer 356 acres along the Ragged Mountain Reservoir to the county before the end of the year. Supervisor Ann Mallek called the land “very valuable,” in part because it connects to an existing trail network and is readily accessible.

Buford science labs up and running 

Buford Middle School held a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony last week for its newly renovated, $1.4 million science labs. According to Charlottesville Tomorrow, Buford is the first public school in Virginia to become a part of the Commonwealth Engineering Design Academies, a partnership with the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Curry School of Education.

The labs feature giant touch-screen monitors, three-dimensional printers, and movable lab tables, which students have been learning to use over the last two weeks. The multi-site lab school will eventually expand to include Charlottesville and Albemarle high schools, and Jack Jouett Middle School.