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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Reduced clerk hours affecting service

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:54 PM

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Ten days after the clerk of the court was forced to reduce hours and trim operations, the effect on customers is evident, incoming clerk Don Barbee said Thursday.

"The backlog has begun," Barbee said.

Before the reduction, people would come to the clerk's counter to file a civil case, get a case number and they would be set.

Now, clerk staffers are telling people they'll get back with them.

"It's already having an effect on customer service," said Barbee.

The state cutbacks do not affect the criminal side of the clerk's office. But it does affect civil cases, such as foreclosure filings, child support issues and tenant-landlord matters.

Barbee said there is a doorbell outside the office people can ring if they need an emergency domestic violence injunction. The office staffers will allow those clients to come in, he said.

Effective July 2, the Hernando County Clerk of the Court shaved two hours a day off office operations, which means the public can conduct business from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Circuit Court Clerk Karen Nicolai said she also had to reduce her budget by 7 percent, or about $240,000, and trim five full-time employees from her 63-member staff.

Hernando County wasn't alone. Several other offices in Florida cut back hours and reduced service operations because of state budget cuts.

There was a glimmer of hope that those hours would be reinstated this week when a Legislative Budget Commission was to meet Thursday and reverse the decision. But Barbee said the commission never discussed it because it wasn't properly set on the agenda.

It was the second such commission delay.

The panel will meet again to consider reversing the action at a date to be determined.

A decision made by House and Senate budget negotiators near the end of this year's session had reduced clerks' budgets statewide by $31 million or 7 percent.

But the panel was asked to allow court clerks to spend additional money to cover the gap.

A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott said that the governor has signed off on the proposal because the money would come from court fees and fines and not the state's main budget account.

"It was disappointing to me, especially after the governor signed off on it," Barbee said. "We were hopeful that it would be an expedited process but it has turned out not to be that way." (352) 544-5290

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