Port Angeles City Council tables action as jail cost negotiations linger

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The City Council has tabled a proposal to amend charging standards and sentencing guidelines to give staff more time to negotiate a cost-cutting, win-win solution with Clallam County.

City Manager Dan McKeen reported Tuesday that “positive steps” have been taken since a June 24 work session in which council members learned that jail costs for city municipal court cases paid by the city were expected to be $300,000 over the budgeted $650,000 this year despite a drop in the projected number of cases.

One reason for the increase was the time it took to bring a city case to hearing.

In the wake of that workshop, Clallam County District Court 1 Judge Rick Porter announced he would provide more timely access to the Port Angeles and Sequim city attorney’s offices and the county prosecuting attorney’s office.

“The judge, on his own, has already modified the court calendar so that as of now, we are able to bring up defendants for disposition of cases on any day except Friday,” City Attorney Bill Bloor told the council in a four-hour meeting Tuesday.

“That will help. We are already making use of that.”

Less wait time

The change reduced the wait time for the city attorney’s office to bring defendants to hearings, which in turn reduced the amount of time defendants spent in jail.

Porter also changed the metrics he uses to calculate a standard charge, Bloor said.

“This particularly applies to property crimes,” he said.

“So the sentencing of property crimes basically has changed to decrease what he considers the standard number of days for sentencing. That will help over the long term, particularly in crimes like shoplifting, trespass, those kind of things.

“So those are two good changes that have been brought forth by the judge,” Bloor said.

“We will continue to monitor those.”

Cap suggested

Meanwhile, Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict has suggested a cap in the amount that the city pays for jail costs, Bloor said.

“We’ll know more about that in the next two weeks,” Bloor said.

“So if that works out, that would be a whole new dynamic to the situation because if we can cap our jail costs at approximately what we had budgeted for this year, that will eliminate the financing crisis that we were facing.”

In addition, the city is exploring a flat-rate contract for use of the Clallam County jail in 2015.

“We will be working with the county very closely to try to make that come to fruition,” Bloor said.

“A flat-rate contract will provide us with budget stability. It will also provide the county with budget stability. They’ll know how much they’re getting. We’ll know how much we pay,” he said.

“The trick on that is to work out the metrics. It has to be fair to all of the parties.”

McKeen said criminal justice costs have been rising steadily for the past eight years.

City staff will continue to monitor the developments and report back to the council next month, Bloor said.

McKeen thanked Bloor, Porter and Benedict for working together to find “creative solutions to help us address those criminal justice costs.”

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” McKeen said.

“It’s a very complex issue.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 16. 2014 5:52PM
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