Local courts spared lay-offs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan said Monday the Covington County Court System is likely to be spared from the brunt of the 150 layoffs ordered throughout the state’s Unified Judicial System.

Last week, Administrative Director of Courts Callie T. Dietz announced the layoffs were needed to meet the across-the-board cuts declared by Gov. Robert Bentley to balance the state’s General Fund budget.

”We have already reduced every operating cost that is possible to be cut,” Dietz said in a statement. “Since the court system is a personnel-intensive branch of government, there is nothing else left to be cut, other than jobs. We fear that there will be a significant reduction in service to the citizens of the state, and thus a delay in justice.”

The press release stated that by May 1, courts will begin laying off some juvenile probation officers, law clerks, bailiffs, court attendants, roving court reporters and administrative assistants.

McKathan said state funding for those positions locally had already been eliminated.

“Right now, we’re currently examining sources of local funding to attempt to avoid – as much as possible – any impact on the local court system,” McKathan said.

Circuit Clerk Roger Powell said his office is not affected by this round of layoffs.

“We took the brunt of the layoffs in 2003-2004,” Powell said. “However, we have been told by the Administrative Office of Courts that if no additional sources of revenue are found by the beginning of the next fiscal year, which is in October, then the next round of layoffs will affect the clerk’s office.”

The state Constitution prohibits deficit spending. So when the state’s revenue falls below appropriations, the governor must declare across-the-board cuts, or proration. The current declaration will remain in effect to the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Bentley has said the state is facing more than a $100 million shortfall in the General Fund budget, making proration necessary.

Four state agencies — Medicaid, Pardons and Paroles, Department of Corrections and the Ethics Commission — are exempt from the proration, after the legislature approved supplemental funding to keep them “whole” last week.

Representatives from local state agencies like the Covington County District Attorney’s Office and the South Central Alabama Mental Health Board said Friday that next year’s proration could bring unpleasant circumstances for their offices such as increased workloads and not enough staff.