Increased filings, budget cuts stress court system
February 2, 2010
Silver Summit 3rd District Court employees may be asked to take a two-day furlough this spring despite an increasing work load because of the economy.
Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham recently called the courts "challenged" because of budget cuts. Dan Becker, Utah State Courts Administrator, told The Park Record Wednesday that the challenge comes from an increased workload much of which is tied to recession woes including debt collection and contractual disputes and trimmed staff.
Last year the courts were told to make do with 5.5 percent less funding. That resulted in a loss of six percent of the workforce. Case filings are up 15 percent, he said.
"Our budget is almost all personnel. You don’t go far into the budget before you have to eliminate positions," he said. "There’s very little discretionary money."
Because of shortfalls in the current year, there are worries the Legislature might cut an additional four percent from the current budget affecting operations through June 30. That’s $4.1 million and prompted a hiring freeze across the system, he said.
If the four-percent cut is approved, all staff will be required to take a two-day furlough between mid-March and June 30. The courts will also limit or defer spending on new equipment.
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If the Legislature also decides to pass another five-percent cut for the 2011 fiscal year, the situation could become "extremely difficult." Becker said.
"I’m almost sure it will result in a loss of personnel and to lose them and have the work load go up at same time would create a difficult situation," he added.
Debbie Faust, judicial case manager, said Summit County has also seen a 15-percent increase in work load tied to the economy. But budget cuts don’t worry her as much because Silver Summit is fully staffed, doesn’t need any new equipment, and is rarely asked to make personnel cuts, she said.
If the furloughs are required, it will be one day in May and one in June to minimize the impact on salaries, she said.
"No one’s too worried," she said.