Sequim still eyeing municipal court

The Sequim City Council remains divided over whether to establish a municipal court in 2010, so its members compromised at the Oct. 13 meeting and will put $45,000 in seed money aside for one, just in case.

If the council does decide to create a municipal court next year, it must begin the process, including spending the estimated $45,000 in start-up costs, by Oct. 1, 2009.

The discussion was being held to help city staff complete the first draft of the 2009 city budget that will go to the council in early November.

Executive assistant Marci Protze presented information on municipal courts at the council's Sept. 24 meeting.

It is being considered as a way to save money once the start-up costs are paid and also to allow Sequim residents to obtain restraining orders without traveling to Port Angeles.

City Councilor Erik Erichsen said Monday that it's unnecessary to spend any more time discussing a municipal court because the city can't afford it.

City Councilor Paul McHugh said he supports funding a municipal court and it also would be better for the city's residents.

City attorney Craig Ritchie said because of state law, the opportunity to set up a municipal court only comes along every four years. The council could budget $45,000 from reserves to be spent in October if they decide to create the court, he said. Then they could see what happens with the budget but not spend the money yet, Ritchie said.

City Councilor Ken Hays said they should accept that compromise because he's not convinced regarding the new court. The proposal needs to be "fleshed out" and the city isn't going to have a new police station until 2014 anyway, Hays said.

City Councilor Susan Lorenzen said she would support the compromise "at the most" because there are many other costs involved in a municipal court, such as probation. Ritchie said probation costs don't exist for municipal court, just district court. "I think we need to wait four years," Lorenzen said.

Mayor Laura Dubois said she favored the compromise of putting $45,000 from reserves in the budget and then looking at other cities the size of Sequim that have municipal courts.

Interim city manager Bob Spinks said the county switched its position on a municipal court in Sequim because of the cost savings.

"I don't have a dog in this fight but there's 127 of them in the state," he said.

Spinks said a municipal court would make it easier for police to get arrest and search warrants as well as making it easier for Sequim residents to get restraining orders.

"Whether it's 2010 or 2014, you're going to get a municipal court. That's just the way it's going to go," he said.

Dubois replied, "I need to know a lot more about it."

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