Rushing reports variety of statistics in explaining her office’s responsibilities
During a June 20 presentation to the Sarasota County Commission of her 2024 Fiscal Year budget, Karen Rushing, clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller, provided a wide array of numbers — not just those associated with that budget.
For example, one slide showed that Rushing’s staff recorded 208,478 real estate documents in the 2022 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2022, and the staff collected $162.5 million in document stamp fees for those recordings; the money went to the state.
Providing even more detail, Rushing presented a slide that had the following figures for the 2022 fiscal year:
- 23,988 mortgages recorded.
- 38,712 deeds recorded.
- 250 tax liens handled.
Rushing also pointed out to the commissioners that more of the recorded deeds in the past fiscal year involved cash.
At the same time, she continued, “Fraud is on the rise.”
The Florida Legislature has approved more stringent laws, she said, to try to prevent fraud. A person who wants to prevent the potential of some other individual trying to sell his or her house needs to sign up for such protection, Rushing added. “We’ve been working with the community,” she noted, to get out the word about that.
(Under the heading of Consumer Fraud Prevention on Rushing’s website, the following details are available by going to the What is Property Fraud? link: “By filing fake deeds, scammers appear to own property, and can fraudulently rent or sell the property without the knowledge of the true owner. By signing up for the Clerk and Comptroller’s Property Fraud Alert Service, you will receive an email whenever a document is recorded in Sarasota County using your personal or business name. Notifications are sent within 48 hours of the document being recorded, alerting you so you can look up the documents through public records, or dispute through law enforcement. Registration is simple and free.”)
Among other activities her staff deals with that are not related to the courts, Rushing said, are passport applications for the U.S. State Department, which added up to 8,285 in the 2022 fiscal year; issuance of marriage licenses — 3,304 — and conducting wedding ceremonies — 1,033.
Rushing pointed out that, in times past, civil marriage ceremonies were not nearly as formal as they have been in recent years. The attire these days tends to be formal, she said, with “an entourage of guests” and even professional wedding photographers gathered. The historic county courthouse in downtown Sarasota is the setting for many of those events, Rushing indicated.
Additionally, she continued, her staff handled 304 tax deed sales in FY 2022 — transactions resulting from property owners failing to pay back taxes and associated fees. While those sales used to take place on the courthouse steps, she added, they have moved to the internet, which does make it possible for people who are out of the county to participate in them.
Yet other numbers for the 2022 fiscal year related to records management, Rushing explained. Her staff converted 695,844 pages of documents to microfilm, for example, in the 2022 fiscal year.
Another slide showed that the public can access digital images of 19,749,692 records, including plats going back to 1920. Other records date back to 1990, the slide noted.
Yet one more slide said that, in regard to the courts, Rushing’s staff dealt with 7,786 county criminal cases and 4,259 12th Judicial Circuit Court criminal cases in the 2022 fiscal year. The total number of civil law cases was 19,950, she slide noted.
Further, 54,347 civil citations were issued in the past fiscal year, with the majority — 49,996 regarding traffic infractions; another 2,706 were related to parking tickets.
Additionally, altogether, fines, forfeitures, civil costs and service charges in the 2022 fiscal year added up to $10,195,992, the slide showed.
Yet another slide showed that the county earned $11.7 million in interest on its investment portfolio in the 2022 fiscal year. Over the past six months, Rushing added, the county already had earned $12.9 million.
Rushing further noted that her staff deals with the minutes of all of the County Commission meetings, covering 65 sessions a year. “That’s a lot of meetings, a lot of notes, a lot of minutes,” she told the commissioners.
Her office provides clerks, as well, for all of the Special Magistrate Code Enforcement hearings, she pointed out. About 300 Code Enforcement cases are underway, she said.
Finally, Rushing pointed out that her staff in the 2022 fiscal year trained 200 people on fraud awareness. Her staff communicates every week with the Sheriff’s Office in regard to fraud attempts, she said.
Among other statistics, she reported that her staff serves approximately 121,000 customers on the phone each year and another 116,000 in person at her office’s two locations — in downtown Sarasota and at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice.
The 2024 fiscal year budget
As for her proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1, Rushing told the commissioners she was requesting $11,392,939, which is 9% higher than the amount for the current fiscal year. The new figure, the slide said, excluded the $1,497,310 for the county’s internal service charges.
Referencing a slide in the commissioners’ workshop packet, Rushing pointed out that the county’s internal service fees for her office had risen 127% from 2009 to the 2024 fiscal year. The uptick from the 2023 fiscal year to the 2024 fiscal year was put at 22%, the slide noted.
A slide in the County Commission’s master workshop document for the sessions held on June 20 and June 21 explained that the charges are for risk management, fleet services and Enterprise Information Technology expenses, as well as fees for administration of benefits and the county’s wellness program.
Out of Rushing’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, $8,160,061 is related to personnel, including increases involving merit pay, benefits and the Florida Retirement System (FRS), the slide said.
“It’s a challenge right now to keep positions filled with qualified people,” Rushing told the commissioners.
The operating portion of the budget is $3,232,878, which was up slightly over the figure for the current fiscal year, she said, citing increases in the expenses for magistrates and commodities.
Among other details about the work of her staff, Rushing pointed out, “We run all the payrolls except [the one for the Sheriff’s Office].” Payroll, she explained, is “more complicated in a big agency.” Last year, she continued, checks for employees included 678,158 deductions. “I was surprised by the number,” she said.
Her budget also covers the work of the Value Adjustment Board, the body to which property owners apply if they believe the latest values placed on parcels they own are higher than they should be.