Senate budget chief slashes county clerks’ by $23 millionby Dara Kam | March 26th, 2010
After chopping $46 million from county clerks’ funding last year, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander diced another $23 million from the clerks’ budgets in a last-minute amendment late yesterday.
Sixty-five of the state’s 67 clerks would see budget decreases from 1 to 10 percent, including Palm Beach which faces a $2.6 million, or 8 percent, reduction under Alexander’s proposal. That could mean doing away with about 100 jobs.
Fred Baggett, a lobbyist who represents the clerks, said he and a few of the county officers met with Alexander on Tuesday, two days before the Ways and Means Committee meeting at which he made his proposal. But they had no idea the drastic change was coming, Baggett said.
Smaller counties “cannot function at this level,” Baggett said.
Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee Chairman Victor Crist said he refused to cut the clerks in his budget because they were hit so hard last year and he was concerned about keeping access to courts open.
Alexander came up with unit costs for 10 types of court cases by dividing the county clerks into four groups based on population size and using the mean cost of the case types. The mean cost came from the clerks’ own reports of how much they spend.
But Crist said the data is inconclusive because it has been less than six months since a new last passed last year basing the clerks’ funding on per-unit costs has gone into effect.
“It’s no different than trying to measure your weight with one foot on the scale,” said Crist, R-Tampa, who voted against the amendment yesterday. “What if we’re wrong? It could mean restricted access to the courts.”
Alexander said he will “take a look at it” over the five weeks remaining in the legislative session.
“We take it that their data when they give it to us is accurate and correct and have worked some months to make sure we get it right. But through the process we’ll take a look at it and if we think we need to make adjustments we’ve got five weeks to figure that out,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said.