With some final minor adjustments, the Board of Governors has approved the Bar’s budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The budget now will be submitted to the Supreme Court.
The board also heard, at its May 26 meeting in Key West, that the projected deficit for the 2016-17 year will be much lower than projected due to better than expected investment returns and that likely will delay an expected rise in annual membership fees that had been predicted for the 2020-21 budget.
Incoming Budget Committee Chair Steve Davis presented the final budget, that calls for $41.8 million of revenues and $42.9 million of expenses. Annual membership fees for the 16th consecutive year remain at $265 for active members and $175 for inactive members.
The last-minute adjustments included an extra $100,000, which doubled its budget, for the Bar’s Special Committee on the 2017 Constitution Revision. Davis said that will be used for the Bar’s campaign to educate lawyers and the public about the activities of the Constitution Revision Commission and that an additional appropriation for that campaign is likely.
Another $40,000 was also added to the $535,000 appropriation for Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. That will match another $40,000 already in the FLA, Inc., budget to allow hiring another professional to work with lawyers with substance abuse and mental health problems, Davis said.
The largest source of income remains annual membership fees, which are estimated at $27.5 million, up from $26.7 million for the current fiscal year and $26.2 million for 2015-16.
The biggest expense remains the regulation of the practice of law, which includes the Bar’s grievance system, the Attorney-Consumer Assistance Program, Ethics and Advertising, and Membership Records. That expenditure is budgeted at almost $21.5 million next year, up from $20.9 million this year and $19.2 million last year.
The Bar expects to spend almost $2 million on unlicensed practice of law activities, a slight decrease from this year, and $4.9 million on communications activities, up from $4.7 million this year. Communications includes the Journal & News and the Public Information and Bar Services Department.
Outgoing Budget Committee Chair Paul SanGiovanni said the 2016-17 budget was premised on the Bar’s investments earning around $1 million. But earnings have more than doubled that number, cutting the projected deficit from more than $3 million to around $1.2 million. That in turn should delay an eventual increase in Bar membership fees.
At a previous meeting, SanGiovanni said the Bar has built up reserves since its last fee increase in 2001, but a growing Bar with expanding programs is now eating into those reserves, and will eventually require another fee increase. Bar policies call for that reserve to be between 33 and 67 percent of the annual operating budget.
Investment Committee Chair Ian Comisky reported that a strong stock market has helped the Bar to one of its best years ever with its investment portfolio. Over the years, earnings from those investments have been credited with helping push back the next annual membership fee hike. When the last increase was passed in 2001, it was predicted to last eight to 10 years before another increase was needed.