The Superior Court’s executive officer, Kristine Kussman painted a bleak picture for the future for Imperial County courts as they prepare to make “drastic” adjustments to balance out a severe fiscal crisis.
“We have to save our organization,” Kussman said Thursday. “We are interested in where we are going to get the best benefit for the dollars that we have and where we are going to be able to provide the best services.”
Having already made staff reductions, departmental adjustments and technological improvements in the past two fiscal years to reduce the court’s expenditures, the court is now facing an immediate deficit of more than $1 million in the next fiscal year of 2013-2014 that starts in July, Kussman explained.
“If we don’t consolidate departments we are looking at (laying off) 15 staff,” Kussman said. “We are going to break if we get any shorter than what it is right now. The best way to do this is by combining some departments together.”
Some adjustments on the horizon for the courts include reducing the days and hours for the Winterhaven Superior Courthouse as well as utilizing an additional courtroom in the Brawley Superior Courthouse.
Currently, the Winterhaven court is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, however, the facilities will soon see a reduction in availability effective May 22, when its hours change to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, Kussman explained.
The court concluded that reducing the days of operation of the Winterhaven branch would lead to a significant and immediate cost savings and would improve efficiency.
Talks are also under way regarding the transfer of a court branch into the additional courtroom in the Brawley Superior Courthouse.
“We are working on that right now, but we’re not ready to come out with how and what that’s going to look like,” Kussman said.
The changes come following Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget, which proposed transferring $200 million from trial court reserves to support court operations.
Valley courts have had to use $4 million from their $9 million reserve funds to balance out their budget, as result of Brown’s proposal, Kussman said.
“They sent us less money and wanted us to use our savings account instead,” Kussman said. “We understand the need to save money, but our reserves are dwindling and it will dwindle to nothing because we are trying to get to our reduction target goal.”
By fiscal year 2014-2015 the courts will no longer have a reserve fund, she said.
Kussman went on to state that the court will do its best to minimize the overall impact and make the transitions as easy as possible for residents.
Staff Writer Celeste Alvarez can be reached at 760-337-3442 or at firstname.lastname@example.org