A Strategic or Tactical Budget Approach – That is the Question

Kiri Torre

As we enter fiscal year 2011-12, the judicial branch finds itself facing its third consecutive year of severe budget reductions. Fortunately for the public we serve, our Court Leadership decided to take a strategic approach to begin addressing its permanent budget reductions in fiscal year 2008-09. I am pleased to report that the Court has already permanently reduced its operating costs by the requisite $7.56 million in order to address the previous budget cuts that were imposed through fiscal year 2010-11, ending June 30, 2011.

To achieve the $7.56 million budget reduction, the Court:

  • ŠŠCompletely restructured/ downsized its management team;
  • Eliminated positions through attrition;
  • ŠŠImposed a hiring freeze to reduce personnel costs;
  • Implemented personnel layoffs at all levels;
  • Eliminated scheduled 3% raise for management and unrepresented employees;
  • ŠŠRenegotiated health benefits, implementing a cost share agreement for all existing employees;
  • ŠŠEliminated retiree health benefits for new hires after January 1, 2011 for all managers, unrepresented employees and employees in the two largest unions;
  • Renegotiated or canceled building leases and consolidated operations into state-owned buildings;
  • Canceled consultant contracts and developed in-house expertise;
  • ŠŠNegotiated reductions to the juvenile court appointed counsel contract budget;
  • ŠŠImplemented an enhanced court-ordered debt collection program;
  • ŠŠLaunched web-based information and services to reduce lines in clerk’s offices;
  • ŠŠInstituted other technology solutions to create more efficient operations;
  • Significantly reduced the number of cell phones and blackberry devices;
  • ŠŠRenegotiated or canceled vendor contracts to reduce the cost of services;
  • Eliminated all non-essential office expenses and equipment purchases.

In fiscal year 2008-09, the Court had 440 staff to serve the public. As we begin fiscal year 2011-12 we have 309 staff to serve 46 bench officers adjudicating the same volume of cases filed with the Court.

Since the Court took swift action as soon as the scope of budget issues were known, the Court has been able to accumulate a budget reserve which serves as a temporary safety net as we brace for this year’s additional $6.8 million permanent reduction. The state’s Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the Judicial Branch, redirected central state funds on a one-time basis to the superior courts to help mitigate a portion of these permanent reductions for this fiscal year. This assistance will provide our court with the critical one-time funding to allow for a more orderly transition as we all continue to downsize and make the difficult decisions regarding significant public service reductions or the elimination of services to meet the new budget mandates.

With the cooperation of our employee unions, our court has used a portion of its one-time fund reserves to create a limited number of one-year temporary positions in order to maintain public service levels to the extent possible. After having authorized these temporary positions, the Clerk’s Office hours were restored to its previous schedule of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (an increase of one hour).

The Court has also authorized targeted staff overtime using fund reserves to address the most critical clerical backlogs that have been forming in the areas of Misdemeanor Criminal, Limited Civil and Family 2336 Judgments. The Court’s plan is to continue to address the clerical backlogs through temporary help and overtime to the extent one-time fund reserves allow.

Knowing that our one-time fund reserves are insufficient to sustain current operations indefinitely, the Court must continue to look for ways to reduce service levels in order to meet the new budget reductions by the end of the fiscal year 11/12.

So the good news is that, up to this point, the Court has been able to maintain public service levels in critical areas through prudent management, careful planning and the use of its one-time fund reserves. The challenging news is that additional permanent reductions will need to be made to absorb the new budget reductions both this year and next. As budget reduction proposals are developed, the Court will seek public comment prior to making any final decisions.

The Court is very proud of its dedicated and knowledgeable managers and staff who continue to provide critical support to our bench and the public we serve. Without their strong commitment to public service, the Court would not have been able to sustain its operations during the past three fiscal years.

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