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Court fees, fines set to increase across Florida

BRADENTON — Citizens are going to shell out a lot more money at the Manatee County courthouse starting Wednesday, but the funds generated by the fee increases will not benefit a cash-strapped Manatee clerk of court’s office.

Instead, the state is going to get all the cash and plans to dole it out to its court administrators, not local clerk’s offices, according to Manatee Clerk of Court R.B. “Chips” Shore.

Legislators recently approved the fee increases for court services to try to ease the statewide budget crunch. Filing of foreclosures and traffic fines will now be hitting Floridians’ wallets especially hard as a result of the new legislation.

In dozens of areas, citizens will see steeper fees and fines at the courthouse starting July 1. Fines for traffic infractions are all going up, including by $15 for all speeding fines. For example, a person who is stopped speeding 6 to 9 miles over the speed limit after June 30 will pay $131, up from $116.

This comes as dozens of other fees increased June 1, most significantly the cost of filing foreclosures with the clerk. Clerk’s offices statewide used to charge a flat filing fee for foreclosures, the same as all other areas of civil cases, according to the Palm Beach Clerk of Court’s office.

Clerks of court now are charging fees ranging from $400 to $1,900 just for foreclosure filings, according to the new fee schedule released by the state. Also, the flat filing fee for civil cases seeking more than $15,000 increased from $300 to $400.

But clerks of court in the state will not see any of the money, Shore said. Instead, the state gets it first, then court administrators, including judges and other officials who see to day-to-day operations of the courts. He lamented not getting a piece of the pie from the new fees. “I wish we were getting some,” Shore said.

Court administrators in Manatee did not return a request for comment on this story.

Also attached in the fee increase legislation were budget cut demands of clerk of courts across the state. Because of a $1.2 million shortfall based on the budget cuts ordered by the state, Shore’s office had to lay off 14 of its 122 employees.

Signs now dot counters in the old courthouse where Manatee’s court paperwork is handled, apologizing if service is slower because there are fewer people. The clerk’s Web site also offers an apology in advance.

“Severe cuts recently made to clerks’ budgets by the Florida Legislature have required significant reductions in personnel. As a result, you may experience longer processing and wait time for services from the office. Thank you for your patience and understanding,” the site says.

The state has mandated clerks across the state collectively cut $46 million from their budgets, according to the recently passed legislation. Shore hopes that doesn’t mean more layoffs.

“We have looked at it and think we are going to meet our budget,” he said, “but we still have to wait and see in the coming weeks.”

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