Crime, Fire + Courts

Yolo court officials outline budget woes

By From page A1 | August 18, 2011

WOODLAND — One of the perks of serving as a Yolo County juror is the endless supply of free coffee. Come next year, that may be a thing of the past.

Even seemingly minor expenses such as ground coffee face the chopping block as Yolo Superior Court officials look to offset hundreds of thousands of dollars in budget cuts.

“The cuts were so dramatic this year,” Court Executive Officer Jim Perry said in a recent interview. “They’re ongoing, they’re cumulative, and they’re permanent, and that permanency is what makes it even more difficult to deal with.”

California’s judicial branch has experienced a 30-percent budget reduction over the past three years, Perry said. In July, the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown slashed it by an additional $350 million.

The cuts affect all of California’s 58 trial courts, each of which is independently managed.

“You’re going to see 58 different reactions and responses statewide,” Presiding Judge David Rosenberg said. “The good news for Yolo is we really have been conservative and prudent in management for the past several years in anticipation of the rainy day.

“Now, it’s raining.”

The budget cuts, along with the scheduled sunset of several fee and fine revenue streams, will reduce Yolo’s court budget from the current $8.25 million to $6.56 million in 2013-14.

For Yolo, that means the courts must absorb a 6.8 percent budget reduction for fiscal year 2011-12, a 15.2 percent reduction for 2012-13, and more than 20 percent in cuts the following two years.

As the court aligns its expenditures to match its revenues, the public will feel the impact in the form of shorter public window hours, longer lines and other delays.

“It will be harder to get access to the court,” said Shawn Landry, the court’s assistant executive officer. “The public’s going to be hurt.”

Earlier this month, the court announced a 60- to 90-minute reduction in operating hours in the civil, criminal and traffic divisions, as well as at the court collections/payment center, effective Oct. 3. The new hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The court’s family law facilitator clinic in West Sacramento, which provides assistance in family-law matters to those without an attorney, has closed its doors for good.

Already understaffed, the court expects its 9-percent employee vacancy rate to nearly triple over the next few years through attrition, Perry said. Retiring workers will take with them dozens of years of experience.

“But our workload doesn’t go away,” Rosenberg noted. “We have a workload that, at best, stays steady but likely increases.”

Rosenberg said the situation does not impact plans to build a new courthouse on the east end of downtown Woodland, a $173 million project slated for completion in 2015. It and other court projects in California are being paid for with a state courthouse construction account funded by a statewide increase in court fines and fees.

Although the Legislature recently diverted millions from that state fund to balance other budget shortfalls, “we continue to remain at the top of the list for new courthouse construction,” Rosenberg said.

Meanwhile, court officials are enlisting employees to help identify potential budget reductions.

A committee of eight court workers, overseen by the court’s chief financial officer, will be reviewing budget line items on an ongoing basis, developing a “tool box” of potential cost-saving measures.

Perry said the court also will consider solutions such as a restructuring of operations and staffing, rolling furloughs and reductions in perimeter security to balance its budget.

“As we go through the years, we’ll start pulling things out of the tool box and implementing them,” he said.

— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or (530) 747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene

Lauren Keene

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