Filing for marriage licenses, paying parking tickets and filing small-claim cases in person will mean a trip to downtown Miami for thousands of residents once the Miami-Dade clerks system closes seven satellite desks amid a push for county dollars to replace lost state funding.
Harvey Ruvin, the elected clerk of the court, announced the closings for Sept. 8, the day after the commission holds its first evening hearing on a budget proposal that includes $4.5 million cuts in Metrorail and other austerity measures.
Ruvin, whose office relies on Florida for the majority of its nearly $90 million budget, wants an emergency award of at least $4 million from Miami-Dade to patch state funding cuts for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
While the satellite courts that Ruvin’s office administers will remain open, the payment desks needed for licenses, case filings and fees are slated to close in Coral Gables, Hialeah, the Martin Luther King clerk office in Liberty City, Miami Beach, the North Dade Justice Center in North Miami Beach, the South Dade Justice Center in Cutler Bay and Sweetwater.
The satellite offices recorded about 600,000 counter transactions last year.
While payments can be made online, in-person transactions would require a trip to downtown Miami.
Ratcheting up the stakes, Ruvin said Thursday that he will issue termination letters to 70 clerk employees, notifying them their positions are being eliminated once the counter services are shut down next month. The only thing that can save them: The 13-member commission gives preliminary approval on Sept. 7 for the $4 million rescue package.
“If, on the seventh the commission directs the mayor and [budget director] Jennifer Moon to find the $4 million, I’ll hold off,” Ruvin said.
Without neighborhood clerk offices, residents would need to drive to the county facilities in Miami for various filings and fees: the civil courthouse and the parking-ticket bureau downtown, the main marriage-license office in Overtown, and the Richard Gerstein criminal justice building in the Civic Center complex near Jackson hospital.
Since commissioners have already agreed not to raise the property-tax rate in 2018, finding extra money for clerk offices promises to be an uphill effort. The proposed budget by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez includes payroll savings from a hiring freeze, cutbacks at Parks, and about $20 million in savings in the transit system.
Most of the saved transit money comes from outsourcing some bus routes to a private operator and eliminating low-traffic bus stops. But the budget also contains $4.5 million in savings achieved by imposing systemwide cuts on Metrorail, including longer waits for trains that have helped lead to jammed platforms and rail cars.
“Transit is the absolute No. 1 pain point across the county,” said Marta Viciedo, a leader of Transit Alliance Miami, which is advocating for Miami-Dade to restore the transit cuts in 2018. “It impacts so many aspects of life.”
Ruvin is also using traffic as an argument for Miami-Dade spending the $4 million on clerk offices in 2018, saying the satellite services can spare a resident from spending half a day just getting back and forth from downtown. “It’s going to be a real hardship,” he said.
The county’s $21 million portion of the 2018 clerks budget is flat compared to 2017, and the proposed $4 million boost would almost double the money Miami-Dade currently uses from property taxes and other general funds to pay for clerk services. Ruvin’s clerks office is suffering from a statewide cutback in the money Florida sends to the counties to run the administrative side of civil and criminal courts.
Ruvin said part of the problem stems from a broad decline in key revenue sources: toll violations (drastically cut due to electronic Sunpass transponders and toll-by-plate services), speeding violations (increasingly fixed by low-cost “ticket clinics”) and parking tickets (pay-by-phone options make it too easy to comply).
State funding has been on the decline for several years, and this year’s reduction left Miami-Dade about $7 million short of what Ruvin said he needed to maintain services. About $3 million of that will come from vacant positions and other savings, leaving a $4 million gap.
A county commissioner himself from the 1970s to the 1990s, Ruvin has been lobbying board members for the financial relief, which he said would serve as stopgap funding, in hopes that he and fellow clerks statewide can persuade the Florida Legislature to commit more dollars next year.
“I think it’s a wise investment,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez, who represents a western suburban district. “The amount of people that they help, that’s convenient for them to go pay a ticket and other things, it’s unreal. We throw so much money at B.S. I think this is money well spent for our residents.”