Volusia County Clerk Laura Roth said her office is struggling due to a loss of revenue.
The Volusia County Clerk of the Circuit Court will receive over a half-million dollars coronavirus relief funds by the county, an allocation request unanimously approved by the County Council on Tuesday, June 30, but the clerk warns that even that might not be enough to keep the office running.
Clerk Laura Roth said her office is facing two different impacts related to COVID-19: Additional expenses and a loss of revenue as all jury trials and in-person hearings remain suspended. Since the clerk's office depends on revenue to fund its budget each year — and isn't allowed by the state to have reserve funds — the coronavirus crisis has put an additional financial strain in an office that has had consistent annual budget cuts over the last decade. Roth said she's reduced staff by over 100 since 2009.
She told the council that, depending on whether clerk's offices receive emergency funds from the state, she may have to ask for up to $1 million to keep the office open and staffed sufficiently.
"No one’s going to go unscathed by this crisis, and we don’t expect to either," Roth said. "If I have to come back here and ask you for additional funds that would not be CARES eligible, it will literally be the money I would need to keep the office open and to provide services to the judiciary and the community."
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was enacted by the federal government in late March. Volusia received $96.5 million in coronavirus relief funds.
The clerk's office is limited to operate on only the funds projected to be left over after the state absorbs its portion of court costs, fines and fees, Roth explained. On Friday, June 26, the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation directed to cut budgets by 13%.
The cut applies to the entire fiscal year, Roth said, and thus gives clerks only three months to absorb it. The loss then amounts to 42.7% of the remaining budget.
To offset expenses, Roth said the office is planning to furlough all employees by 2.5 hours a week and cut exempt staff salaries by 3%. She will be taking a pay cut as well.
She's also working to determine where staff duties can be consolidated to eliminate positions, as that is the bulk of their expenses. Offices across the state also may start closing a day or two a week, Roth said.
“The courts are struggling tremendously to even continue to function," Roth said.
Should the clerk's office be provided with its own coronavirus relief funds, it will reimburse the county the $573,125.07 it will be granted via an agreement for the council to approve at its next meeting.
“There is a dire necessity for you, for our judicial system to function at all," County Councilwoman Heather Post said. "Without the work that your office does, it cannot function.”