Decline in foreclosure filings pushes Florida court system into deficit
The Florida court system is facing a $72.3 million deficit for the current fiscal year due to a sharp decrease in foreclosure filing fees as a result of 2010's foreclosure moratoriums. Subsequently, the judicial branch is freezing hiring and considering staff furloughs, Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady said in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott. The State Courts Revenue Trust Fund, established in 2009 to funnel a portion of filing fee revenue back into the court system, is incurring the debt. Of the $462 million court system budget, about $370 million is currently funded by the trust fund. "Hence, the payroll and operating expenses of the branch are supported to a large extent by this trust fund," Canady wrote. According to Canady's letter, $293.6 million, or 77%, of the trust fund was projected to come from real property or mortgage foreclosure filings. However, mortgage foreclosure filings have "dropped dramatically below" the official projections for the 2010/2011 fiscal year, the chief justice said. In March alone, the deficit to the trust fund is expected to reach $8.2 million. And recently released data suggest that filings may not substantially increase. Although Florida holds the largest shadow inventory in the U.S. at more than 441,000 properties, the average home sits delinquent for 638 days, according to the National Association of Realtors. The Supreme Court also mandated foreclosure mediation programs in 2009, which can extend foreclosure timelines or diminish foreclosure inventories. Canady said an emergency plan to provide funding to the Florida court system is essential. He proposed temporary transfer of $28.5 million to the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund from the court's Mediation Arbitration Trust Fund and Court Education Trust Fund. Write to Christine Ricciardi. Follow her on Twitter @HWnewbieCR.