Florida Record

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Court clerks claim state limitations on courthouse budgets created more problems

By Carrie Bradon | Nov 5, 2018

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Three clerks of court have sued the state Revenue and Fiscal Services departments for what they claim to be an unconstitutional state law that has allowed the State Revenue Estimating Conference to limit the amount of court users' fees that go to the courthouses with the remainder going to the state. 

The clerks claim that this is a misuse of money and is contributing to long wait times at courts as the courts lack the funding needed to have enough workers on staff. 

"The main reason our wait times are longer is because we don't have as many customer service clerks at the window servicing customers and answering phone calls," Lee County Clerk Linda Dogget told he Florida Record. "Right now, the Florida Legislature is very conservative, and I do appreciate that. They consciously intend to control budgets of county offices and governmental agencies, and while I appreciate that, the lawsuit is specifically addressing a couple of problems that have caused more problems than necessary for the 67 clerk's offices around the state." 

Doggett said that in the constitution, the fees and fines that the clerks collect are to be used to fund the operations, so it is not tax-based funding. 

"In 2004, when that constitution was changed, there was a great deal of effort to define what those fees and fines would be in order to support those operations," Doggett said. "The Revenue Estimating Conference was inserted into the clerk's budget process and now the committee estimates what they think the clerks' revenue will be and they cap our budget based on the projected revenue."

Doggett said that now, even if the workload increases, the budget will not because of the new capping system, and if revenues decrease over a fiscal year, so will the budget, making it a difficult situation for the clerks to handle.

"To have budgets cut two or three times in the year and not be able to retain staff and hire people back when you need them creates a big issue and inserting the Revenue Estimating Conference created a lot of problems," Doggett said.

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Lee County Clerk of Court