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State may issue last-minute reprieve for clerk offices

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:23 PM

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The county clerk's office was poised to reduce office hours in about two weeks because of state budget cuts.

But a last-minute reprieve may be in the offing, allowing Court Clerk Karen Nicolai and her counterparts across Florida to maintain current hours and continue service operations.

Incoming Clerk Don Barbee said he should know by the end of the day Tuesday whether he will need to redo his budget to accommodate the changes.

"I'm not getting my hopes up, but it is encouraging," Barbee said.

The Legislative Budget Commission is tentatively scheduled to meet Tuesday and give clerks the ability to spend up to $29.5 million that could be generated by fees and fines. Legislators this year passed two bills that were designed to help the clerks collect money owed to the court.

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

Nicolai said she reduced her budget by 7 percent, or about $240,000, and trimmed five full-time employees from her 63-member staff.

And beginning July 1, she was set to shave two hours a day off office operations, meaning the public could conduct business from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

But the legislative panel is being asked to allow court clerks to spend additional money to cover the gap.

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

Barbee said if all goes well, the local office would not have to cut hours and he could keep existing services, which is sorely needed now because of the huge increase in local civil cases, including sinkhole claims and foreclosures.

"I would not have to cut services, and we would be able to keep up," Barbee said "I would be able to maintain our full service hours and put the positions back that we would have to eliminate."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. (352) 544-5290

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