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Florida Courts E-Filing Authority expects monthly upticks in filings

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E-Filing PortalWith an expectation that the slump in electronic court filings will be over by the end of the year, the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority has adopted a 2020-21 fiscal budget that projects a slight surplus for the year.

The authority, which manages the Florida court system statewide e-filing portal, also approved a reserve policy for existing surplus funds and a better plan for future contingencies.

According to information provided to the authority board of directors, revenues for the fiscal year that began July 1 are expected to be $7.18 million, $960,000 less than the 2019-20 year. The authority expects to end the 2020-21 fiscal year around $100,000 in the black.

Filings for the portal dropped more than 30% from March to April and stayed low for May, following closing of most in-person court proceedings and statewide stay-at-home orders to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beginning in July, the authority expects filing to recover about 3% each month “until filings fees return to averages experienced early in 2019-2020,” according to the budget projections. “In this projection, the volume levels will return to previous year averages by January of 2021.”

One of the biggest expenses for the portal will be $3 million in merchant credit card fees that lawyers use to pay filing fees and other costs through the portal.

The other major expenses are payments to the Florida Clerks of Court & Comptrollers, which provides at-cost support services to the authority. Those costs include $2.7 million for maintenance and enhancement of the portal, $855,000 for the portal’s service desk, $346,000 for management and administration of the program, and $91,000 for outside management, administration, and professional services.

The authority board unanimously approved the budget.

Clay County Clerk of Court Tara Green, secretary/treasurer to the authority, said the reserve policy is needed as e-filing continues to grow and the authority, soon to celebrate its 10th anniversary, matures.

Referring to the pandemic, she said, “This shows the importance of needing a reserve policy. I find that this reserve policy is very timely and an important piece of our governance.”

The FCCC’s Brian Machek, who prepared the budget and reserve figures for the authority, said the policy calls for adopting two types of reserves, one for operations and one for technological development.

Most agencies set operation reserves at 25% to 50% of annual expenses and he said the technological reserve will allow for expanding portal services and research and development projects.

Machek recommended — and the authority board approved — setting initial fund goals at $3 million for the operating reserve and $2.5 million for the technology reserve.

The authority had about $5 million in assets as of the end of April, he said, although it will also need to keep around $1 to $1.5 million available as operating cash.

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