Florida clerks prepare for a potential funding shortfall
Facing a potential budget shortfall, the Legislative Committee of the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation met September 7 to discuss budget recommendation options for the Florida Legislature ahead of the 2023 session.
On August 9, the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference projected a budget of $441 million available for Florida’s 67 clerks for the fiscal year. Upon review, the clerk’s Budget Committee established a needs-based budget of $481.2 million during its August 24 meeting.
The revenue shortfall of over $40 million, coupled with staffing issues, means the clerks are having increasing difficulty providing the necessary services the public demands, according to the clerks.
During the 2022 session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 552 which gives the clerk’s corporation the authority to recommend changes to the Legislature regarding the amounts and distribution of the various court-related fines, fees, service charges, and costs established by law.
Ahead of 2023, the clerks are looking at what they can do to address the expected shortfall. Clerks of Court Operations Corporation Deputy Executive Director Jason Welty presented the committee with two options, including changing the current distribution of civil traffic fines or increasing filing fees for circuit civil and county civil cases.
With the distribution option, Welty noted that the total civil penalty for a speeding ticket is nearly $100 higher than the statutory base fine and that many of these fees are distributed to trust funds outside of the clerk’s office and have little to do with the work needed to process the citations.
“If the Legislature were to redistribute a portion of this funding from the current recipients to the clerks, it could adequately fund the clerks’ needs-based budget,” Welty said.
Redistribution of funds garnered support from Clay County Clerk Tara Green.
“The core issue here is the distribution,” Green said. “No one is in favor of fee increases. The revenue is there. It’s the way it’s distributed.”
St. Lucie County Clerk Michelle Miller, however, said raising fees should not be taken off the table entirely.
“We might consider [asking for] a 10% raise on filing fees or perhaps a cost-of-living increase,” said Miller, noting the Legislature hasn’t raised the clerk’s filing fees since 2008-2009 and that now might be the time to do so.
However, Miller said, both distribution and filing fee increases are viable solutions.
“I feel strongly that we should present both options to the Legislature. However, my fear regarding distribution is that we’re going to run up against trust funds fighting back against us,” Miller said.
Leon County Clerk Gwendolyn Knight asked what combination of both options could curry favor with lawmakers.
“Which one of these plans will provide the clerks with the path of least resistance?” Knight asked.
“Each option will see some kind of resistance,” Welty said. “State agencies will resist when their trust fund dollars are redistributed, and it takes two-thirds of the Legislature to approve a filing fee increase in a state that doesn’t like fee increases.”
Sensing the need for further debate, Polk County Clerk Stacy Butterfield, chair of the committee, tabled the recommendation discussion.
The committee will meet again in October with the hope of presenting its recommendation to the CCOC’s Executive Committee during its November 1 meeting.
Welty also made a presentation regarding reimbursement of funds to the clerks regarding petitions and orders related to the Baker and Marchman acts and sexually violent predators. The CCOC will provide the Justice Administrative Commission with each county’s number of cases for the most recently completed fiscal year. If the Legislature funds this issue during the 2023 session, each county will receive the reimbursement in a quarterly distribution.