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HB 977 and its Impact on the 2024 Preliminary Court Budget

During the last week of April 2023, the Florida legislature passed HB 977, which will help fund Clerk’s offices across the state by an estimated – $24.1 million. This is due to the great efforts of our local Representative Adam Botana and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. The methodology of how this money will be funded across the 67 counties in Florida is yet to be determined by the Clerk of Courts Operations Corporation (CCOC). The $24.1 million is $12 million short of the Clerks’ original request for recurring funds and $26.9 million short of the $51 million total needs of Clerks statewide. . This leaves significant shortfalls for counties across the state. This is a definite step in the right direction which we appreciate, but there is still a large gap for Clerks to be properly funded for basic, essential court functions.

Collier County is one of the fastest growing and highest cost of living counties across the state. We provide numerous essential services to the Board of County Commissioners (BCC), the judicial system and the public. HB 977 impacts the court-based budgets for Clerks to support the judicial systems. Over the last 15 years, the CCOC current approved court-based budget for Collier County is $3 million dollars less than it was prior to 2010. Year after year, since 2020, the CCOC has started with an artificial base budget which severely undercuts funding that the we need to continue to provide essential basic services to judges and the public. In 2023 alone, the starting base budget of $6.5 million for Collier County was $800,000 less than the department needed to operate a balanced budget. That $800,000 gap had to be subsidized from the Board of County Commissioners so that we could keep court rooms open and provide a baseline staff. Counties are not intended, by the Florida Constitution, to provide funding for court services, it is expected that our services are paid through the fines and fees collected by Clerks.

The Collier County Clerk’s office has cut 34% percent of the court staff since 2010 due to the lack of funding from the CCOC. Despite these cuts, we continue to meet all state standards in reporting and timeliness as well as generating a surplus of revenues. This surplus of revenues is not allowed to be kept by Collier to fund operations, but rather is required to be sent to the CCOC to fund other counties that cannot maintain a balanced budget or meet state standards. In 2022 alone, the Clerk’s office remitted over $1 million to the state which we could have used to properly staff and fund our court operations. These continuous cuts to court budgets have reached a critical point. We do not have sufficient staff to service all court rooms and cases.

For fiscal year 2024, we have calculated that we will need $8.5 million dollars to operate a balanced budget. This increase is due to pay plans implemented by the BCC, benefit changes and legislative mandates. With record-high inflation, operating costs have also increased. The CCOC baseline budget only increased by approximately $100,000 from 2022 to 2023. If the same strategy continues from the CCOC for our 2024 budget, our funding will be short in Collier County by $1.3 million. While HB 977 is a great step in the right direction, more progress must be made to ensure that our Clerk’s office, and those across the state, have the funds needed to provide the essential services that our communities require.