PORT ANGELES — Officials from Clallam County, and Sequim and Port Angeles city governments will conduct a closed-door meeting today as they look for a path forward on the county’s contracts with the two cities for providing criminal justice services.
Currently the county provides criminal justice services for the cities — including jailing, prosecution and municipal court services — but the costs of providing those services are expected to rise after lawmakers approved legislation earlier this year that prohibits courts from charging legal financial obligations to indigent defendants.
On Tuesday, the county commissioners agreed to rescind its July 10 letter providing a year’s notice of the termination of the county’s interlocal agreements with the the city of Sequim and the city of Port Angeles. That letter was sent in response to the legislation.
Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones told the county commissioners on Tuesday that the meeting — which is also the annual meeting of the three jurisdictions to discuss the agreement — would be closed to the public to allow for “frank” discussion.
“That’s the expectation that everyone was coming with, to speak frankly without worrying about it being on the front page of the paper,” Jones said during the county commissioner work session.
The meeting is at 8:30 a.m. today at the Clallam County Courthouse and is closed to the public.
There will not be a quorum of elected officials from Clallam County, Port Angeles or Sequim.
Officials with Port Angeles and Sequim said any results from the discussion would become public later through public meetings. Any decisions would need to be approved by the Port Angeles and Sequim City Councils and the county commissioners.
Nathan West, who starts his role as the city manager for Port Angeles today, said he is appreciative that the county plans to rescind its notice of termination of the contract.
“It’s something that we are very looking forward to for continued discussion and we feel we’re in a better position to have effective discussions without that letter being in place,” West said.
“It’s really important we take the time to gather facts and really look at what the implications are for costs moving forward and make sure they are based on facts and are not speculative in nature.”
West said he hopes the county’s decision to rescind its letter will make today’s meeting “much more positive,” adding that he is optimistic there will be good discussions during the meeting.
It’s the first of these meetings West has attended.
Jones has said he estimates the lost revenue would be about $400,000 annually.
Unrelated, the county saw this year an unexpected boost in federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes by about $400,000.
The contracts, approved in 2015, require the county to provide court services, jailing, prosecuting and defense of the indigent for the two cities at a fixed cost.
The city of Port Angeles pays the county about $800,000 a year while the city of Sequim pays about $320,000.
The goal is to benefit all the citizens of Clallam County by providing cost containment, operating deficiencies, prosecutorial continuity and reduction in government duplication, according to the contract with the city of Port Angeles.
The contracts allow for any of the parties to terminate the agreement by providing at least one year’s notice and showing cause for termination.
On Aug. 26, the city of Sequim sent a letter to the county requesting the county rescind the notice of termination.
“There are legal issues regarding your letter, of course,” Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush wrote in the letter. “We have retained the services of our former City Attorney, Mr. Craig Ritchie, to help us deal with those issues, if necessary.”
Bush wrote in the letter the county and cities should work together and that failure to follow the terms of the agreement could result in arbitration or litigation, both of which would be costly.
“As stewards of County and City funds, we believe you and we both owe the County residents, who are also residents of the City of Sequim, every effort to maintain the Criminal Justices Services Interlocal Agreement,” Bush wrote.
Bush said Tuesday he was pleased to hear the county had agreed to rescind its notice of termination, but said he’ll wait until the city receives a formal notice.
“We’re looking forward to the meeting tomorrow,” he said.
He said the city is looking at how much it would cost to run its own municipal court, but he expects those costs would be more than what the city pays now.
“We need to assess what’s best for us and I look forward to collaborating with everyone in that process,” he said.
Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias said he appreciated the city of Sequim’s willingness to work together.
“My inclination is to hope that what our conversation this week ends up with collectively would be a reasonable time frame and a date certain,” he said. “It would be nice to work with our partners to develop that.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].