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A voluntary furlough program has proved “quite successful” in helping the San Francisco Superior Court weather budget cuts this year, Presiding Judge Donna Hitchens says. The court has saved about $55,300 by giving employees two chances to take extra days off without pay. And it strives to save roughly $45,000 more by making a similar offer at the end of December, court administrators said. Earlier this year, the court projected furloughs could save about $100,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, a part of its strategy to cut about $2.2 million in spending, said Chief Fiscal Officer Neal Taniguchi. That leaves the court with a roughly $68 million budget for the fiscal year, he said. “I’m not sure if we’ll make the full $100,000,” Taniguchi said, but “every little bit helps.” The money saved so far could almost pay for one staff position for a year, he said. The court picked times when judges had already scheduled vacation, when there are typically fewer trials, said Cheryl Martin, human resources director for the courts. Approximately 530 full-time employees in the civil and criminal courthouses — excluding judges and commissioners — could choose to take up to four and five days off without pay around the Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays, Martin said. “It was a totally voluntary program.” Employees choose between losing the pay in one paycheck or amortizing that lost pay over several biweekly paychecks, Martin said. A couple of unions told the court early on that employees were concerned they might lose already-approved vacation time due to the furloughs if someone they worked with offered to take time off without pay instead, Martin said. The court won’t rescind previous vacation approvals in favor of furlough requests, Martin said, though she acknowledged informational materials may not have made that clear at first. Because of already scheduled vacations or other criteria, the court denied 13 of the 65 furlough requests it received for the Fourth of July week and eight of the 58 requests that came in for the Labor Day furloughs, Martin said. Because many people have already planned vacation time in December, the court may not be able to spare more through furloughs the last two weeks of that month, Martin said. “We have so many people that want those weeks off, generally, before furloughs even come up,” Martin said. Still, administrators hope some staff will choose to use furloughs instead of their already-approved vacation, in order to take more time off at another time and to help the court save money and avoid layoffs, Martin said. “We are not anticipating layoffs for the ’03-’04 fiscal year,” she said. “We do not know what’s going to happen in ’04-’05. That’s the big question mark right now.” “We’re hoping we might be able to replace one or two of the positions that have been vacant,” Hitchens said. “But we have to be cautious, because there may be further cuts.”

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