District court office furloughs are likely

Register City Editor

Nonjudicial personnel in Allen County District Court and probation offices will likely be furloughed one week a month for the first six months of 2010, Tim Brazil, chief judge of the 31st Judicial District, told Allen County commissioners Tuesday. The 31st District comprises Allen, Neosho, Wilson and Woodson counties.
The layoffs are necessary to cope with an $11 million cut in state funds, Brazil said. About 98 percent of judicial budgets goes to salaries.
Hiring is frozen for the remainder of this year and temporary workers were terminated June 12.
“We continue to look for additional efficiencies and cost savings, but the shortfall could require up to 30 days of statewide court closures and unpaid furloughs the first half of 2010,” Brazil said.
If funding doesn’t change, 1,589 nonjudicial employees, including six in Allen County District Court and three in the probation office, would be affected by the 2010 furloughs. Effectively, they will face a 25 percent reduction in salaries by the one-week-a-month furloughs.
In another cost-saving move, hours at the Wilson County office are being reduced beginning today. The office will close at 4 p.m. each day, while other counties will remain open until 5 o’clock.
Office closures will not affect judges’ duties. They will be available to sign search warrants and arrest warrants, he said.
Measures taken statewide, such as passage of a limited surcharge, elimination of temporary help, the hiring freeze, nonrenewal of a senior judge and limiting retired judge use, has reduced the overall shortfall to $8.1 million.
Brazil said a saving grace would be reinstatement of state funding when legislators meet for the 2010 session in January.
“We anticipated that would happen at the end of the 2009 session, but it didn’t.”
While state funding is critical, Brazil told commissioners that he and others, including Allen County District Judge Dan Creitz, recognized the financial concerns counties faced and proposed a locally funded budget of $281,000 for 2010, a reduction of $20,000 from this year.
While the financial picture Brazil painted was not bright, it could become more dismal. Fiscal 2009 ended Tuesday with state tax revenue $126 million less than anticipated.
That shortage will require additional cuts, which Gov. Mark Parkinson said he would outline Thursday.

COMMISSIONERS were asked to consider establishing an annual property tax levy to support the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.
Susan Raines, executive director, and Fred Works, Bowlus Commission chairman, proposed a quarter-mill levy. That would be “of immense help,” Raines said. “Anything more than $2,500 (what the county has contributed in recent years) would be greatly appreciated,” Works said.
A quarter-mill levy, based on the county’s valuation of about $94 million, would generate $23,500. Commissioners said they would consider the request.
Raines told commissioners the Bowlus “truly serves the entire county. Many people who live outside Iola utilize it for entertainment and other activities.”
The Bowlus representatives pointed out that while trust funds paid for programming, daily operating costs, mainly utilities and salaries, were a problem.
Raines has applied for federal stimulus money. A lottery will decide which applicants will be funded. There are three times as many applicants as grants, she said.
“The Bowlus is the county’s art agency,” Raines said. “I’d like for you to start thinking of it as serving a county function and purpose.”
During the past school year USD 257 made a lease payment of $131,000 for use of classrooms and performance areas. Board members have talked recently about reducing that to $121,000.