SEQUIM — The City Council has authorized city staff to present a long-term all-in-one court and jail services contract to Clallam County.
The contract is pending approval by the three Clallam County commissioners.
Commissioners are expected to review the contract and perhaps take action on it during their Nov. 24 meeting.
If approved, the city will try municipal cases set for trial as of Jan. 6, and the county will try all cases after that date.
The city also will provide any active case files to the county by Jan. 4.
At the same time, the city is considering a feasibility study to determine if it would be more cost-effective to establish its own independent municipal court, although no action has been taken to date.
The council voted 6-1 — with Councilman Erik Erichsen casting the sole dissenting vote — to authorize City Manager Charlie Bush to sign the consolidation agreement and bring it before the three Clallam County commissioners for approval, or to bring back to the council any materially different contract proposed by the county.
The contract in its current form potentially could save the city about $80,000 annually, according to city staff.
The agreement “would bundle criminal justice services, except for law enforcement, and the thought is . . . that the costs would be lower,” said City Attorney Craig Ritchie.
However, “nobody can guarantee what is going to happen,” he said.
“The way that this was written, it would in theory benefit all parties because the amounts were set lower than what we are paying the county anyway and what we are paying on our own.”
Under the agreement, the county would handle all infractions and misdemeanor cases that originate in Sequim.
The city already contracts with Clallam County to provide court and jail services but also pays a private attorney, Chris Shea, to provide prosecution services and the Clallam County Public Defender’s Office for indigent defense services.
If the all-in-one contract is approved, the city will pay the county a flat fee of $320,000 for the provision of misdemeanor law-and-justice services in 2016, with future payments tied to the Consumer Price Index, according to the agreement.
The city budgeted $439,861 for court services this year, with a return in revenues derived from fines and charges for goods and services of $82,279.
Under the new contract, the county would keep the revenues, but the city would still see savings overall, Bush has said.
The county and city of Port Angeles have already agreed to a substantially similar contract, but with a flat fee of $800,000 for services in 2016, with future payments also tied to the Consumer Price Index.
The three commissioners Tuesday approved the contract that the Port Angeles City Council approved unanimously Nov. 3.
The difference in pricing for the two municipalities is due to Sequim’s smaller population and fewer court cases, Ritchie said Friday.
“Having our own court is another option,” Ritchie said during the meeting.
But the practical solution is to see first if the interlocal agreement works, he said.
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to look at other alternatives,” he said.
When asked by Erichsen how much a court feasibility study would cost, Ritchie replied, “I can’t tell you how much, but there are other alternatives,” such as conducting “an internal study.”
That “would cost simply staff time to do things,” he said, and “would lead us to determine whether or not we needed to do a more in-depth study to determine additional cost.”
That would be “something to consider starting whenever council wants to,” Ritchie said.
Said Councilman Ted Miller: “I am really torn on this issue. I strongly agree that Sequim should have its own municipal court.”
Miller said he hopes the city will study the feasibility of founding a municipal court “because it is clearly the long-term solution, and I also think it is the near-term solution.”
“I think we should be ready to incorporate a Sequim Municipal Court almost on a moment’s notice and certainly on a few months’ notice,” he said.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or [email protected]