San Luis Obispo County Superior Court is trying to decide how to cut $1 million from an operating budget that has been severely affected by the state budget shortfall.
Court officials said the operating budget is estimated to be about $19 million this year, but revenue projection will leave a gap of about $1 million.
The reduction comes as part of a $350 million slashing of the state judicial branchs budget for the fiscal year 2011-12. A management team of county judges and court officials is faced with taking drastic measures to balance the budget, which is expected to be done within a month.
Everything is on the table, including reducing court hours, furloughs, layoffs and closing courtrooms, said Susan Matherly, the local courts executive officer.
The San Luis Obispo Superior Court which has 145 employees has operated under a soft hiring freeze since June 2009, during which it has filled some critical positions but mostly left jobs vacant through attrition. The courts normal staffing number is 162 employees. About 80 percent of the budget is payroll.
And the court already dipped into its reserves in the fiscal year 2009-10 to pay for staff to perform administrative work on once-a-month furlough days implemented statewide that year.
Presiding Judge Charles S. Crandall, who makes final administrative decisions, said the goal is to avoid layoffs in the county court system this year. But officials are still in the early stages of making decisions, and specifics are yet to be determined.
Court officials considered closing the Grover Beach branch last year. But community reaction was that the court provided a valuable service, so it was kept it open. The Grover Beach court handles misdemeanors, civil cases, small claims and juvenile cases.
Crandall said reducing costs such as building upkeep will have to be weighed against other considerations that may involve staff-related cuts.