The to-do list gets longer, but the doers can't keep up.
And it's not for lack of trying, either.
The 14th Judicial District must stomach a 15 percent cut to its staff this summer, all the while keeping up with the demands of a growing caseload.
Lawmakers' decision to leave Colorado courts with $22 million less in the next fiscal year is hurting the district.
The latest round of cuts -- a $200,000 blow to the district's FY 2003-04 budget -- comes on the heels of earlier reductions that eat away at staff productivity.
The district responded to an initial round of reductions by forcing employees to take eight unpaid days off before the end of the fiscal year June 30. More than 1,326 lost work hours will save $98,000. The move has saved dollars but has overburdened a smaller number of people, District Court Administrator Evan Herman said.
Saving another $200,000 in the coming fiscal year will mean layoffs and unfilled vacancies.
Three court clerks and one court reporter, about one-sixth of the district's work force, have been or will be terminated, Herman said. The district is now understaffed, he added. One court reporter handles all transcribing duties for court proceedings, and remaining clerks shoulder the loss of three clerical positions.
"There's nothing we can do about it," Herman said.
He hopes an eventual economic upswing will afford the district the means to hire back those positions.
In the meantime, courts in Northwest Colorado must go without.
The 14th Judicial District is not alone and is more fortunate that some judicial districts in the state.
Karen Salaz, with the Office of the State Court Administrator, said funding for Colorado's courts fell by $22 million for the 2004 fiscal year. Dollars generated by a new state law that increases court-user fees will reduce that figure by $9.3 million. But the final number still represents a $12.7 million, or a 9.5 percent, reduction in funding, she said.
Some districts have been forced to lay off several people because none of their employees was retiring or transferring by choice.
The 14th Judicial District, which covers Grand, Routt and Moffat counties, must lay off one of its court clerks; attrition created the other three vacancies.
District administration is looking at further reductions in programs. Herman met Thursday afternoon with Chief District Judge Michael O'Hara and the chief clerks in each of the three counties to discuss trimming an already lean operation.
They decided to shorten the district's business hours in the district. Beginning June 2, court employees won't answer phones, accept fee payments or answer questions about cases between noon and 1 p.m.
The noon closure follows a decision by district administration in March to close court offices in Routt and Moffat counties at 4 p.m.
The shortened business hours are intended to free up time for staff members to do their work without interruption.
An hour of quiet at the end of the workday allows court clerks to tackle more of the district's growing caseload, but it doesn't increase the number of people who are handling the workload, Herman said.
Dockets are growing and will continue to grow, District Judge Paul McLimans said earlier this week at a meeting to discuss the proposed justice center.
Despite looming cuts, the district's focus has not changed.
"Public safety is our No. 1 priority," Herman said.
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