23 Aug 2014
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Council Weighs Resources for Municipal Court Following Loss of Maple Valley Contract Next Year

Though case load will decrease, city leaders agreed that a basic staffing model needed to remain to service Enumclaw cases, though reductions are in place elsewhere to meet the decline in service demand.

Council Weighs Resources for Municipal Court Following Loss of Maple Valley Contract Next Year

The city of Enumclaw is bracing for the revenue loss projected after its contract to provide services for Maple Valley court expires at the end of the year, and to that end is looking to make spending reductions next year to better align with the decreased funds.

(See this Maple Valley Reporter story.)

City administrator Mike Thomas told the City Council during its fourth and last budget workshop Wednesday that these include reducing department full time employees by 0.5 FTE, reducing overtime and reducing temporary staffing spending by half for next year.

His response came after prodding by Council over why when demand for services is projected to decrease, the amount of money put into that service doesn't experience a similar reduction.

Enumclaw Judge Robert Hamilton explained that regardless of the amount of time spent in court, staff still needs to process reports, prepare court documentation in prolonged criminal cases, take phone calls, serve citizens who walk up to the office during open hours as well as perform various miscellaneous tasks of a small municipal court.

The assumption that a reduction in demand equals a linear reduction in supply in this case is not practical, Thomas said. "You're reaching an illogical conclusion because you don't have enough staff to run the basic court operation."

Currently, the municipal court's budget covers two full time employees, and a part time bailiff, and then contracts with a judge, public defender and a domestic violence advocate, along with City Attorney Mike Reynolds as the city prosecutor, Thomas said.

Cutting staff would likely lead to a subsequent need to increase overtime spending and then rely on more temporary help, he said.

Councilman Mike Ennis, who had questioned the lack of reductions, acknowledged that a basic court structure still needed to exist and said he didn't necessarily belief a staffing cut was in order. However, he cautioned, when the economy turns around and the city can hire again, he'd be hard-pressed to grant requests to add staffing for the court - even if case loads increase - given that existing employees have been able to manage the work load well. "I just want to recognize that," he said.

City Attorney Mike Reynolds also cautioned against a simplistic interpretation of court operations because societal dynamics are fluid. The economic slide that began in 2008 first led to an increase in property crimes because people were broke; DUIs increased as frustrations grew; and domestic violence offenses increased because people turned to drinking and violence. Pressure from the county level pushing cases down to municipal courts that historically didn't get prosecuted here, are also compounding factors. For example, the city now prosecutes crimes against children, but it doesn't have the proper resources, such as a proper child interrogator, to process the cases through.

Suggestions for Filling Money Hole

Hamilton asserted it was not the court's role to turn a profit - otherwise it would be doing 'checkbook justice.' However, he also indicated he was sympathetic to the city's need to ensure it remained a viable operation and suggested a few avenues for growing revenue streams:

  • A statute/ordinance that would make inattentive driving a ticketable infraction. The fine for this offense is $250, and the city would retain all of the revenues collected.
  • Seeking partnerships without other municipalities - possibly Black Diamond.

And as the Enumclaw police department is looking to increase staffing by three officers next year, there is also a projected 20 percent to 25 percent increase in ticket generation, he said.

Other Budget Discussions

Youth Center: Councilman Sean Krebs, acknowledging the frustration of representatives of the Enumclaw Youth Center over inadequate funding for its operations next year, put forth the request to increase funding to EYFS to $35,000. In an earlier budget session, but EYFS Director Gary Hemminger responded this was not enough to even property staff the center. Ennis, because of his wife's affiliation at Plateau Outreach Ministries which a competing agency for city dollars, recused himself from the discussion though remaining members who were present, Darrel Dickson, Chance Lafleur and Glen Jensen agreed with Krebs.

Expo Center: The Council spent a lot of time discussing the progress of the Expo Center and weighed removed $40,000 budgeted for window repairs but ultimately decided to leave the numbers as is for the time being. The project needed to be put out to bid first.

Property Tax: The Council at its Tuesday meeting tabled an ordinance related to setting the property tax levy for 2013 because updated numbers had not yet been available from King County. Using prior numbers, Ennis suggested that the projected increase of $13,415 in taxes collected was negligible and he was opposed to the essential 1 percent tax increase. Jensen agreed; Dickson and Lafleur agreed with Krebs, who said the revenue is clearly needed for the city and would support the increase - if only to be able to further support the operation of the Youth Center. The ordinance was tabled until the next Council meeting which will be Monday, Nov. 26.

More Information:

Budget Workshop 1

Budget Workshop 2

Budget Workshop 3

View the preliminary 2013 city budget (PDF)

Still to Come:

Monday, Nov. 26: The second of two public hearings on the preliminary budget will take place during the regular City Council meeting; the tabled ordinance related to the setting of the property tax levy should continue as well.

Monday, Dec. 10: The second and final reading of the budget ordinance will take place during the regular City Council meeting where it would be adopted if passed.

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