Starting in October, customer service hours at Pasco clerk of courts offices will return to normal after a panel of state lawmakers on Thursday restored the bulk of a major budget cut to Florida's 67 clerks offices.
The Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved giving the clerks $29.5 million, just shy of the initial $31 million cut. Pasco clerk Paula O'Neil said the county's share is about $800,000. That means her office will soon post openings for 16 full-time positions, and it will also fill nine part-time jobs through a temporary staffing agency.
When the Legislature approved the budget cuts this spring, O'Neil accepted early retirements from five workers and cut a total of 25 unfilled positions. That meant customer service windows and call center hours for court-related business were only open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The new hours took effect in July. Normal operating hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and are expected to resume Oct. 1.
"I wish we could (restore the customer service hours) sooner," O'Neil said. "But we did let those positions go and made other arrangements. So now we don't have the trained people to do that."
The reduced customer service hours gave employees more time for filing and processing tasks that were normally performed by other workers.
The shorter hours affect only court-related business, such as when people need to pay a traffic ticket or request a document from a court case. Official records such as marriage licenses, passports and property records are not affected. Hours also are the same for non-court-related financial services.
The budget commission is a 14-member panel of lawmakers from both the House and the Senate. It makes recommendations for midyear adjustments to the budget. O'Neil said other legislators have two weeks to raise objections, but she doesn't expect any problems with the clerk funding.
The $29.5 million will come from a special trust fund that collects court fines and fees. A memo describing the proposal says the fund had a $13 million balance in June. It is expected to cover the budget increase because of recent changes to state law that allow for greater collection of fees.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.