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Florida Court Funding Issues and How They Affect Collier County’s Judicial Services

It is no secret that Clerks in Florida have been struggling for years under the current funding model for Clerks’ Court Operations. Since 2009, Statewide Clerks’ budgets have been cut by $74 Million. Our 2023 Collier-related budget of $7,031,792 is $3.1 million less than our 2007 funding.

Considering the growth of our county, increases in expected services, and general increases in the cost of living, salaries, and mandated benefits, this is an unworkable level of funding. Clerks cannot provide the critical state-wide court services required or expected by our citizens, at current funding levels.  

In the current funding model, part of the revenues generated in Collier County are used to fund other counties who cannot earn sufficient revenues to operate. For example, Collier’s 2023 budget has been cut by $836,828 from our needs-based request, $1,192,687 of our earned revenues from 2022 was allocated to fund other counties.

In the last 10 years, Collier County has provided over $11.5 Million in funding while our local budget has been cut. We continue to be a “donor” Clerk that generates funds that are distributed to other counties. We are the largest land size county for services with over 2,000 square miles with customer service centers 34 and 42 miles from the Naples courthouse. We are one of the highest cost-of-living areas in the state at 113% of the state’s average cost of living. Many of our costs are controlled by the state (Florida Retirement) or County (Health Benefits) and Local Judiciary practices, yet these nuances are not considered in the current funding model.

When the system that funds our services was created, it was assumed those who accessed the justice system would pay for the costs of those services. We depend on fines, fees and court costs to fund public services. There are currently many services and activities that have no fees or revenue associated to cover costs. For example, critical domestic violence injunctions and indigency cases do not provide fees to cover the costs of these services. Traffic ticket revenue that was expected to subsidize funding for cases that rarely see the return of costs is insufficient. Some of the statutory service fees have not changed for over 10 years, yet our costs to provide those services have increased by double digits. As non-funded services continue to grow, and more services are being required without regard to funding, Clerks do not have operating funds to continue to meet the required levels of service.

The aforementioned issues have not developed overnight, and they have not been solved in the last few years. Clerks have held together operations for years, we do what we must do to make it work. Thankfully, most of us have incredible staff members. They work regardless of the constraints; they worked during COVID-19; they worked during the hurricanes, and they find solutions to do exponentially more with less funding. They have kept us going, but even they have worn thin.

As Collier County’s elected Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, I have reached out to our local Senator (now Senate President) and representatives to present these funding issues and push for the development of a multi-year plan that will fix this system. The justice system must be able to operate under all conditions, Clerks and the Courts are essential services. Reworking the system for the Clerks to have sustainable funding is critical in providing the quality services that our Collier County constituents deserve.