Friday, April 20, 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
Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

High school students from both sides of Tampa Bay will commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings on Friday, although in very different ways.In St. Petersburg, students from several schools will gather at noon at City Hall for...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

Florida continues to coast with relatively low unemployment and modest job gains. In March, for the sixth straight month, the state’s jobless rate was 3.9 percent. Florida added 13,800 jobs over the month.Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate was 3.6 percent...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Tampa Bay foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa has violated numerous rules of professional conduct and caused two clients to nearly lose their homes because he failed to tell them about settlement offers from their banks. In preliminary findings of ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A state trooper kept pulling women over to ask for dates

A state trooper kept pulling women over to ask for dates

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey State Police trooper accused of repeatedly pulling over women to ask them out on dates has been indicted. The state attorney general’s office announced Thursday that 32-year-old Eric Richardson faces charges including off...
Updated: 1 hour ago
SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

Associated PressNEW YORK — SunTrust Banks Inc. says accounts for 1.5 million clients could be compromised following a potential data breach. The Atlanta bank says that it became aware of the potential theft by a former employee and that the investiga...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pinellas detention deputy fired for using racial slur

Pinellas detention deputy fired for using racial slur

LARGO — Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fired a detention deputy Friday after an internal investigation found he used a racial slur to describe black inmates.A fellow Pinellas County Jail deputy reported Jorge Lopez, 30, after he repeatedly used the s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
One injured, suspect in custody in Ocala school shooting

One injured, suspect in custody in Ocala school shooting

OCALA — Authorities say one student shot another in the ankle at a Florida high school and a suspect is in custody.The Ocala Star-Banner reports the shooting happened Friday morning at Forest High School which was on lockdown. The injured student was...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Former Ohio State, University of Tampa coach Earle Bruce dies

Former Ohio State, University of Tampa coach Earle Bruce dies

Former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce, whose nine-year tenure in Columbus came after one season as coach of the University of Tampa's now-defunct program, passed away earlier this morning at age 87.Mr. Bruce reportedly had been battling Alzhei...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

The NFL did the Bucs no favors with their 2018 schedule, Rick Stroud says, making them open at New Orleans, followed by home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Plus, linebacker Kendall Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle, p...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Portion of I-75 reopens in Sarasota after smoke settles over road

Portion of I-75 reopens in Sarasota after smoke settles over road

SARASOTA — A 10-mile stretch of southbound Interstate 75 has reopened in Sarasota County, after it was shut down earlier Friday morning due to smoke in the road.According to broadcast reports, the smoke was caused by a a prescribed burn in the area ...
Updated: 1 hour ago