POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Given the financial strain the COVID-19 pandemic has put on the office, the Polk County Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller is planning to lay off and furlough dozens of workers.
In a news release on Friday, Clerk Stacy Butterfield pointed out that the office is funded by fines, fees, service charges and court costs, which have all been on the decline since courtrooms and offices closed for in-person visits.
On top of that, Butterfield said the clerk’s office suffered a $1.6 million budget cut for the current fiscal year, which ends in about three months.
“I deeply regret that I had to take these actions,” Butterfield said. “While courthouses may have closed due to COVID-19, the majority of our operations have continued. Our team members have worked so hard in the face of many challenges, and it is gut-wrenching to now be at this point.”
All in all, 20 employees will be laid off while more than 200 will be furloughed plus some workers will move to other offices that need more assistance. Hours of operation will also be limited, costs will be cut wherever possible and 21 positions will be frozen or eliminated.
“The impact on the public and courts will likely be significant as my office provides many critical services that may be delayed due to the lack of resources. With fewer people and reduced hours, it will take longer to receive assistance, and some services may be temporarily unavailable. This is counter to my commitment to provide trusted, quality services,” Butterfield said.
Emergency funding from the governor’s office is the only way Clerk of Court offices can get financial help. The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers association is working with the governor’s office to see if there are any options available.
“I take seriously my commitment to provide needed services to protect the public and to serve the courts,” Butterfield said. “While we have continued to provide essential services even during the initial stay at home orders, we have a backlog of court cases at the same time that we are losing a substantial portion of our funding. We are hopeful for an emergency solution to this issue, as a majority of our costs are related to salaries and benefits of our staff. The implementation of furloughs and layoffs, not only impacts our employees and their families, it also means when courts resume their full operations, I will not have a sufficient number of trained staff to support processing the backlog of cases.”