Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

7 percent budget cut puts Hernando County clerk of courts in a bind

BROOKSVILLE — Karen Nicolai arrived to work Friday with a tough task ahead of her.

The budget the state Legislature was expected to pass later in the day included an across-the-board 7 percent cut for county clerk of court operations. It's now up to Nicolai, preparing her 24th and final annual budget before retiring as Hernando's clerk, to deal with an increasing case load with fewer resources.

"How do you plan for something like this?" Nicolai said. "How do you all of a sudden take this much money and figure out what's not going to get a done?"

Desperate to trim the state budget, lawmakers settled on clerk's offices as a one-year solution, slashing a total of $31 million. Clerks throughout the state warned that the move would result in hundreds of layoffs, delays in service and reduced office hours.

For Nicolai, it means a roughly $240,000 hit to her $3.3 million budget for court operations. That equates to five full-time positions, or about 10 percent of her 63-member courts staff.

Nicolai said she hopes to avoid layoffs. But because 85 percent of the budget goes to staffing costs, that could be an unrealistic goal. Ideally, she said, at least some of the savings will come through attrition.

Cutting hours is probably the last strategy she will consider, she said, because it would result in relatively little savings and won't change what has been an increasing workload.

The public and attorneys who deal with Nicolai's office will likely feel the effects in other ways, though.

Because of due process rights of the accused, work associated with criminal cases must remain the top priority, Nicolai said. While the criminal case load has remained about the same, she estimated that the volume of civil court filings has increased by at least 15 percent in the last few months, primarily due to a spike in foreclosure and sinkhole cases.

Civil issues such as domestic violence injunctions will continue to take priority. Other civil matters, such as divorce filings, "are just going to have to wait," Nicolai said.

The court budgets had remained status quo for the last two years, but in 2009-10 lawmakers approved an 18 percent reduction. Nicolai's courts staff has shrunk by five since then.

"It's kind of a perfect storm," she said.

A likely target for cuts is the Saturday work program Nicolai put in place about a year ago to transfer paper records to microfilm to free up space in the storage center next door to the government center in downtown Brooksville. Nicolai planned to use the Saturday program to stay on top of a new requirement to redact personal information from documents. Much of that work is done electronically, but manual checks are still necessary, she said.

"I don't know how we're going to keep up, I really don't," she said.

The manner in which county clerks are funded, Nicolai said, makes the cut especially galling. The courts side of clerk operations are fee-based, but clerks send that money to the state each month, and the state takes 8 percent and redistributes the balance back to clerks.

The cuts to clerks was one of "many things I have a problem with" in this year's budget, Sen. Mike Fasano said Friday afternoon before the vote. The New Port Richey Republican's district includes about half of Hernando County.

"I think the clerks have every right to be concerned," Fasano said. "I'm still trying to understand the rationale behind it."

Nicolai's office has generally been efficient over the years, said John Keller, a Brooksville attorney who specializes in probate law.

"We're used to getting our orders pretty quick," Keller said. "If there's a cut, it could slow down a lot of stuff for families."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

Comments
Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

TAMPA — A bipartisan pair of former congressmen spoke Friday about gun safety measures that are more drastic than those being considered following the Parkland school shootings, and about hopes for a national youth movement comparable to the 1960s an...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Indiana man killed, two hurt as boats collide on Little Manatee River

Indiana man killed, two hurt as boats collide on Little Manatee River

RUSKIN — Arthur D. Showley, 75, went fishing early morning Friday morning, something he did two or three times a week, friends said. When they saw his car and trailer still parked near a community boat ramp at 2 p.m., they thought that was strange."H...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Restricting bullets rather than guns might cut toll of school shootings, some experts say

Restricting bullets rather than guns might cut toll of school shootings, some experts say

This is the sad new math in the age of school slaughter.If one student comes to school with a firearm and 10 ammunition magazines filled with 30 bullets each, and another comes with a firearm and 30 magazines filled with 10 bullets each, who can crea...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Epilogue: Lee Davis, businessman and adventurer, survived many a scrape

Epilogue: Lee Davis, businessman and adventurer, survived many a scrape

TAMPA — Friends and family have a saying about Lee Thornton Davis Jr. Once you met him, even for just a moment, you knew him forever."He was the most outgoing person I’d ever met," Dick Greco said, which is something coming from Tampa’s gregarious, 8...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

The head of the Pinellas and Hillsborough career centers under multiple investigations into the way they report job placement figures says he has no intention of stepping down.That’s unless he is paid five months severance.In a letter from his attorn...
Updated: 2 hours ago
She’s taught at the Parkland high school for 14 years. Can she go back?

She’s taught at the Parkland high school for 14 years. Can she go back?

PARKLAND — She was afraid of what it would feel like, but she needed to know, so Melissa Falkowski pulled into the faculty parking lot. She took a deep breath in through her nose and climbed out of her car. She was back, in front of Marjory Stoneman ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The real Jefferson Memorial has a statue, but this one has a jukebox

The real Jefferson Memorial has a statue, but this one has a jukebox

The building was in its infancy when a vintage Cadillac Eldorado rumbled up the construction path. Getting out, the driver demanded to know what the finished structure was intended for.Told that it would be a private home, the driver scoffed. The uni...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the state’s safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last week’s massacre ...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Updated: 3 hours ago
Terminally ill Valrico man dies a month after marrying junior high sweetheart

Terminally ill Valrico man dies a month after marrying junior high sweetheart

VALRICO — During his final few days, 19-year-old Dustin Snyder moved to a hospice house, surrounded himself with belongings from home, swam in a pool and visited the beach in Ruskin.Wherever he went, the terminally ill Valrico man had family beside h...
Updated: 3 hours ago