Local News

Monthly report to the commission

— Bob Germaine reports a series of facts to the commissioners every month: investment earnings in June, $235,120; commission invoices paid, $5.043 million; traffic fines collected, $141,725.
This is what the Florida Legislature mandated: public records.
Indigent applications processed: 208 last month, 1,807 in the first nine months of the fiscal year, which started in October.
These days, court cases are electronically filed. “E-filings. That’s mandatory, and that’s going to keep going up and up,” said Germaine, who was elected clerk of the courts in 2008. “Attorneys have to file that way. The only way you can file on paper is pro se — that’s the public. They can bring the document in to us and we’ll file it electronically.”
The number of e-recording customers goes up every month: 302 in October, 329 in February, 392 in June.
“You can e-file with us from anywhere in the world,” Germaine said.
This is what the court clerk’s office does, all day, every day: documents recorded, 3,092 last month; deeds recorded, 505. The court clerk’s office, which takes up most of the first, second and third floors of the original portion of the Highlands County Courthouse, doesn’t just issue marriage licenses and record divorces.
Germaine pays the county’s bills: county commission invoices processed, 1,442 for $5.04 million. He also invests the county’s money: $235,120 earned for the first nine months of the fiscal year.
Four statistics reflect the real estate economy: in June, 505 deeds were recorded but only 168 mortgages.
“This is what I keep saying, the banks aren’t loaning no money, it’s all cash buying,” Germaine said.
Ninety-three tax deeds were set for auction. Go to www.hcclerk.org to find out more, like an online foreclosure sale calendar and specifics about which properties are for sale. Sales can be searched by six different categories, like the property owner’s name and address.
“We’ve got five set today, down in the jury assembly room,” Germaine said. The website details the base bid and how much money is owed, with links to the property appraiser’s office and the tax collector.
“You can also bid from anywhere in the world,” Germaine said.
Only 28 foreclosures were filed for June, and 333 so far this fiscal year. That’s a 300 percent drop from the height of the foreclosure crisis, when more than 1,500 bank repossessions were recorded.
“These days, usually the day before the sale date, the bank will call and cancel it. They’re trying to work out something with the person,” Germaine said.
Although June is the month for weddings, only 42 marriage licenses were issued, the lowest number since January. Turns out, the month to buy a marriage license is March, 72, and February, 50.
“The license is only good for 60 days,” said deputy court clerk Misty Blackburn. “They’re not getting it that early to get married in June.”
More records come on line every month, Germaine said. Clerks in the basement are scanning old files, redacting the names of minors, and blacking out Social Security numbers and bank account numbers.
“My goal is to get it all scanned so I can get rid of it. And once we get space down there, I’d like to move in a pro se office, set up some computers and staff, and assist people. We do some of that now in the law library. We can’t give legal advice, but we can point them in the right direction.
“Everything is moving, really, toward providing more access to the public, and that’s what the [Florida] supreme court wants us to do,” Germaine said. “We want to do even more than that. We want to go back to when the county was established, and put every record (on the Internet), so that if you want to find out where your grandmother bought a house, you can go online and find it.”