Canan Tasci, Staff Writer
Created: 07/22/2012 07:04:34 AM PDT
The Chino Superior Court in Chino will be closed at the end of the year. (Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/Staff Photographer)
CHINO – Furlough and hiring freezes alone couldn’t save the Chino courthouse from closure.
San Bernardino County Superior Court announced the court will shut its doors on Jan. 1 as part of a significant court budget shortfall – $13.5 million this year, growing to $21 million annually thereafter.
The decision was only one of several steps in an attempt to reduce the deficit.
“The difficulty is how are we going to get to the level of cuts that we’re facing the next two years,” said Stephen Nash, the court’s executive officer.
“Yeah, you could have cut less, but that saves you less, and that just means that you’ll have to have to (cut) more somewhere else.
“It really defines dilemma. And dilemma is where each option is bad and in this case we have many options that are all bad. The question is which is going to hurt the least and how are we going to do it in a way that minimizes the impact to the public and other agencies. That really is what drives our leadership in terms of making these decision.”
Effective Jan. 1, cases being heard in the Chino courthouse at at 13260 Central Ave. will most likely be transferred to Rancho Cucamonga or Fontana, and it is estimated the closure will result in the reduction of at least 15 positions countywide, according to a court news release.
Officials announced on July 13 partial closure of the clerk’s office in Needles, cutback in hours for the clerk’s offices countywide and reduction of administrative staff by three positions.
It is estimated the Chino court closure will save the system $1.7 million, a savings which barely scratches the surface of a system that costs $107 million to operate each year.
Presiding Judge Ronald Christianson assigned a working group of judicial leaders to look at various cost-saving options for the court. The decisions made so far represent the beginning of more reductions to come.
“I don’t want to say this is the first wave and then five minutes later there’s another. There’s lots of things we’re looking at right now. We are also involved in collective bargaining and negotiation with the intent to try to find ways to reduce the cost overall,” Nash said.
“But there is no way we’re going to get to it just though that, we’re going to have to consolidate operations and do (other) things so this was just the first wave.”
Overall, the court system has been reducing its costs the last couple years, but Nash admits officials had “no idea the full scale of cuts that awaited us.”
Officials implemented a hiring freeze and monthly furloughs. With some exceptions, yearly salary increase was reduced from 5 percent to 2.5 percent.
Nash said even those cuts have had only a small effect.
“The problem is we need substantially more savings. We have to look at items that are going to produce savings. And we still have a long ways to go, that’s the problem,” he said.
The Chino courthouse has 21 employees and the county Sheriff’s Department has six bailiffs there, Nash said.
Keep in mind, Nash said, like most public agencies, the court has collective bargaining and contract employees with varying seniorities.
“There are a lot of moving pieces that will determine what’s going to happen to specific employees. This is just the first step, a very important first step,” he said.
Supervising judges and managers and district managers will all weigh in and figure out the details. Part of that is to figure out what will happen to individual employees in this process.
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