Circuit clerk’s office hours cut by state budget shortfall
With financial shortfalls blamed for part of a statewide problem, Chief Justice Roy Moore issued a mandate last week that will see circuit clerk offices around the state closing every Wednesday — a move Escambia County Circuit Clerk John Robert Fountain said was inevitable.
“Because of budget cuts we knew this was coming at some point,” Fountain said. “We took a couple of days to analyze the mandate and get things in order. We will be closing our office to the public beginning Wednesday, March 20.”
Fountain said the closure is as more about catching up with backlogs of work than it is about cutting costs.
“We will still be here working on those Wednesdays we are closed to the public,” Fountain said. “It will be a ‘catch up’ day for us. By having more time to devote to paperwork, we will be able to ttake care of a backlog of work.”
Fountain said the employees in the circuit clerk’s office will continue to work thanks in part to funding from local sources.
“This is a state office and we get the majority of our funding from the state,” Fountain said. “We aren’t doing this — it’s coming from higher ups. Our employees will still be working thanks to additional funding we get from the Escambia County Commission, the judges and the district attorney’s office. They are all helping out to keep our employees on board and working for the county citizens.”
Currently, five clerks assist Fountain in a full-time position with six other part-time employees on board as well.
“We are very fortunate to have kept our employees working,” Fountain said. “The additional funding from our local source has helped us pick up some pieces and keep working. Other counties are operating on fumes with funding for only three or flour clerks working for the whole office. Those offices are seeing a larger backlog of paperwork than we are seeing here in Escambia County.”
Fountain said based on traffic in the office, Wednesday may be the best day of the week to be closed.
“Based on how things have been for us, this is the best day for us to be closed to the public,” Fountain said. “It would be the least inconvenient day for the public considering the traffic we usually see at mid-week.”
Although the cut to four days a week service to the public is a blow for the office, Fountain said more cuts are possible putting a dark cloud over the future of the office and the courts.
“There is more talk about more cuts in the months ahead,” Fountain said. “There has been discussion that the judicial budget for the state will see another 20 percent cut. It may seem a little rough right now, but it’s going to get worse.”
In last week’s order, Moore blamed the closing on significant shortfalls in state funding for circuit and district clerks office across the state. Funding for courts was cut by $25 million for fiscal year 2013 with an expected offset of about $13 million short for the current year forward.
Moore also said the expected appropriation for the state court system would be $16.5 million short in operating funds for fiscal year 2014.