Vermont’s court budgets more than $1 million out of balance

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(Host) Budgets for Vermont‘s courts are more than one million dollars out of balance this year.

Officials say the impending deficit is the result of years of lean funding.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd has more.

(Sneyd) This spring, the state approved pay increases for the court system, but didn’t put any extra money in their budgets.

So the courts need to find $880,000 in raises somewhere else.

It’s a tight squeeze.

Patricia Gabel at the Supreme Court says if anyone in the judiciary system retires or leaves for any other reason, they won’t be replaced for awhile.

(Gabel) “As a result of unprecedented budget difficulties this year, we have temporarily moved to a 12-week delay in filling the position while the Supreme Court evaluates the situation and decides how to deal with the budget for this year."

(Sneyd) The judiciary’s budget over the past few years has been "level funded." That means the courts have gotten pretty much the same amount of money from year to year, despite increased costs for postage, mileage and other supplies.

Officials say that’s added up to a total projected deficit this year of one-point-four million dollars.

Lee Suskind is the administrator of state courts. He was reached by cell phone because he was out of town shopping for a new computer system that the courts hope will save money.

He says he worries that the understaffing could have long-term consequences.

(Suskind) “The other people in the courts have to pick up the work of the person who isn’t there. That’s going to result in probably mistakes of record keeping and it’s going to result in less time to work with people at the counter, over the phone, and provide the service that people need."

(Sneyd) A committee of court officials is trying to develop recommendations about how to deal with the budget shortage.

The Supreme Court will consider those recommendations, but Suskind says the court still expects it will have to ask the Legislature for extra money very soon.

The justices may not get much sympathy in the Statehouse.

Susan Bartlett is chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

(Bartlett) “I think it’s everyone in government is trying to figure out how to do more services or the same amount of services with less staff in a cost-effective manner.”

(Sneyd) She says the computer system that Suskind is shopping for will be a wise investment toward that goal.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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