By Madysen McLain
Gazette Reporter 

Commissioners to counter Pullman court proposal

 

July 4, 2019

Public Works Director Mark Storey listens to county commissioners discuss action for the Pullman District Court Monday.

Whitman County commissioners Monday decided to send a counter offer on locating the District Court in Pullman. Specifics of the counter offer were not defined, but discussion Monday indicated the county favored keeping the court sessions in the present city hall.

Pullman at the June 18 city council session approved a proposal to keep the court in the present city hall. They proposed to pay the county $400,000 a year for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor filing fees in Pullman cases. The proposal would be good for two years and would require the county to pay for utilities and up to half the cost of building repairs like HVAC and roof upgrades. The court would remain in the old city hall.

"Seems to me that you've got two issues in front of you: what is the location of the court, and what is the amount of money the county is going to be paid by the City of Pullman to do the city's misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases," Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy told the commissioners at their Monday meeting.


TriboTEX

Discussion on the future of district court move began when Pullman decided to move its city hall to the former Encounter Ministries property without the district court offices.

Tracy said in the 1980s, Whitman County had a justice court with justices of the peace from Rosalia, Colfax and Pullman, instead of a district court.

The county changed in about 1982 when the state transitioned to district courts with one judge.

Colfax has been the primary location for the court because it is the county seat. A satellite office was set up in the Pullman City Hall during 1989. Court is currently conducted in the city council chambers twice a week.

Tracy said during the transition time, the county paid the city of Pullman $5,000 a year for use of the space and the county provided all court services for the city. Those services included judges, clerks, criminal prosecution, criminal defense, criminal probation, incarceration and civil infractions.

He said a few years later, in 1992, Pullman and the county entered into a lease agreement, which is still in use today, for the county district court to use the Pullman City Hall space.

"Rather than paying an ongoing rent every year, the county instead waived any filing fees for Pullman," Tracy said.

The lease agreement renews automatically every year, unless one party gives the other party notice by the end of August, he said.

In 1996, the state legislature created a law that requires the cost of handling gross misdemeanors to be paid by the city.

"They're responsible to pay the county for the operation, whether they pay it with space or cash," Commissioner Art Swannack said.

By law, the city of Pullman is required to pay the county for provided court services, and in 2012, the city started paying the county $347,000 a year for the services.

The city is still paying the same amount now.

Tracy said court services have evaluated county services close to $488,000 per year, about $141,000 more Pullman pays on the 2012 agreement.

County Administrative Director Gary Petrovich said the biggest part of the 2019 cost of services is salaries.

Tracy estimated the business conducted in the Pullman court is 70 percent Pullman generated and 30 percent county generated.

"The county is paying about $18,000 a year in filing fees for the Pullman City Hall space," Tracy said.

Petrovich said Pullman can either operate their own municipal court or contract with the county to perform the service for the city.

The law does not require the Pullman court to be located in Pullman and could be in Colfax, Tracy added.

Swannack said if the county were to rent a different place in Pullman, the rent will be far more expensive. He said expenses would increase if the city doesn't host the court.

"I think Pullman is focused on their new city hall," Petrovich said. "They see this as an opportunity to try to reduce their costs and maybe its budgetary concerns. They're looking at millions of dollars worth of repairs for the building."

Tracy said if Pullman decided to run their own municipal court, it would cost them more than if the county did so.

Swannack agreed to work with Petrovich in drafting a letter back to the Pullman city council as soon as possible.

"I'm hopeful the city doesn't kick the county out of the current space," Tracy said. "I think it makes tremendous sense to use that current space."

 
 

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