State courts have nothing left to cut from budget but services, administrator tells rural press
If the seven percent reduction in state spending based on early budget estimates becomes real, there's a possibility that the wheels of justice will grind more slowly across Utah.
That's the appraisal of Ray Wall, the state's deputy court administrator. In a press conference with rural journalists at the State Capitol Friday, Wall outlined the proposed responses of the state's judicial system to the $7.2 million reduction that would be necessary.
Among measures listed was the closure of seven low-volume courthouses in county seats: Randolph, Fillmore, Kanab, Manila, Morgan, Panguitch and Loa. That would make for long commute times for cops, attorneys, and the people who have to show up in district court for various reasons.
If this is what the Legislature wants to happen, then it will have to amend the law that requires counties to hold court in their county seats, Wall noted.
Those closures, and the consolidation of venues in bigger counties with more than one courthouse, would still not make up the difference. "Closing those courthouses only takes us halfway there," Wall said. Savings from the closures would produce roughly $3.2 million in savings, leaving the rest of the system to absorb the other $4 million.
Since 93 percent of court costs are for personnel, that leaves continued staff cuts as the only viable option, Wall explained. The total reduction in force would be 128 full-time equivalent positions, or 13 percent of the workforce. That means that the total reduction in workforce since 2003 would amount to 25 percent.
"It will impact this little district, but the exact number has yet to be seen" commented Seventh Judicial District Court Executive Bill Engle on Monday. The Seventh District includes Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan counties.
Among those who might be forced to take cuts are the juvenile probation staff, according to Wall. He listed potential impacts on the juvenile justice system as an increase in the caseload for probation officers, an increase in the number of juveniles sent to detention, community placement and secure care, and a reduction in the ability to apply juvenile sentencing guidelines.
While the prospects may appear grim during the early days of the session, legislators pointed out Friday that the figures are only preliminary. Rep. John Mathis of Vernal told the press that the legislature adopts a "base budget" early in the session. This base budget is based on last year's numbers.
Sen. David Hinkins of Orangeville noted that revised figures on revenue projections are due by Feb. 22.