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Florida clerks preparing follow-up effort to stabilize funding

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BudgetAfter obtaining legislative authority earlier this year for better budget management flexibility, Florida’s Clerks of Court hope to improve the sources of their funding in the next legislative session.

The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers last year launched a multi-year effort, called At Your Service, to correct chronic shortfalls in clerks’ court-related funding.

The Legislature passed SB 838, which gave clerks more ability to manage their reserves and carry forward funds. Now, according to Flagler County Clerk of Court Tom Bexley, the FCCC’s legislative chair, and Jason Harrell, FCCC director of government relations, clerks want to address their revenue sources.

Bexley and Harrell said the clerks want to correct the over reliance on funding from civil traffic fines, which have proved to be an unstable revenue source in recent years. Some clerks’ offices in 2020 saw half their funding disappear after the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the amount Floridians were driving and police, faced with other challenges, wrote fewer traffic tickets.

“What we’re looking at is making some incremental changes, looking at that reliance on civil traffic fines and looking to see if we can find some additional sources of revenue to get us away from those variable traffic fines,” Harrell said. “A couple things we’re looking at is the current distribution of revenues and looking for sources that have been steadier, areas that haven’t been so volatile, and have clerks retain some of those additional stable revenues.”

Clerks are also trying to identify a source of support for free services they provide, which include work on domestic violence injunctions, Baker and Marchman act cases, and cases involving indigent filers.

“We’re still working on that and what the final sources might be,” Harrell said.

Bexley said clerks are not looking to solve all their problems in the next session.

“The idea is not to get the entire apple all at one time, but to take a couple of bites over the next few years and be reasonable stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. I think we’re flexible and we’re trying to be realistic,” he said. “I’d like to get to a comfy place in the next two to four years. I think somewhere in there would be realistic, for us and the Legislature.”

Harrell said the FCCC is working with legislative leaders to line up bill sponsors and hopes to have legislation drafted and introduced in the next several weeks.

In addition to bolstering clerk revenues, the clerks’ association hopes to expand another aspect of SB 838, which encouraged clerks to offer payment plans for people paying off fines, fees, and other court-related costs.

Harrell and Bexley said clerks want to expand that program, especially since sometimes failure to pay those costs results in loss of driver licenses.

“We want to make sure that anytime we’re looking to address the revenue side, we’re pairing that with ways the clerks can help with other issues,” Harrell said. “We’ll work to help individuals with payment plans for their court obligations. It will help us help ourselves and help others at the same time.”

Solving clerk funding problems will be important as court caseloads are only growing.

“There are more people moving to the state of Florida every day. There’s an assumption because of that [caseload] volume is going to increase. That along with the COVID backlogs, I expect a large increase in workloads,” Bexley said. “It’s not going to be just for a year, I think it’s going to take years for us to work through this.”

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