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Snoqualmie to change court services in 2007

The city of Snoqualmie has decided to end its contract with King County for court services in the Issaquah division of the King County District Court effective Dec. 31, 2006, according to city administrator Bob Larson.

As of Jan. 1, 2007, Snoqualmie will use the city of Issaquah's municipal court services under a three-year interlocal agreement.

"The district court is obviously disappointed with the decision of the Snoqualmie City Council in this matter," said Tricia Crozier, chief administrative officer for King County District Court. "The district court will respect their decision and make every effort to assist in a smooth transition."

The change in services - which was approved in June by City Council - could bring the city of Snoqualmie an anticipated revenue of about $18,000 a year to its general fund, Larson said.

"We think it's to the benefit of our residents and others and it's going to be more convenient, I think, and hopefully we'll be able to avoid some additional costs," Larson said. "We're looking forward to the relationship with the city of Issaquah."

Municipal and district court services handle misdemeanors.

For the city of Snoqualmie, the Issaquah Municipal Court will handle infractions and criminal complaints, as well as traffic and nontraffic citations. The district court will continue to be the court for citizens to access civil and small-claims matters, said Crozier.

Cases filed on or before Dec. 31, 2006, will continue to be handled by the King County District Court.

Felonies will still be handled in Superior Court.

"The community will continue to need to go to both the district court and the municipal court for years to come because these cases are just going to be entering our system and many of these takes years to get through the system," said Crozier.

Snoqualmie's current contract with King County has generated decreasing revenue for the city as costs and allocations have increased in recent years, city documents stated.

Since King County is on a full-cost recovery system, it keeps 100 percent of the revenue from infractions and misdemeanors collected by Snoqualmie. The city also expects to pay about $15,000 this year from its general fund (of about $8 million) in additional operating costs to King County, though 2006 numbers will not be available until July.

"We don't derive enough income from [misdemeanors] to pay 100 percent of what [King County] charges," said Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaffer.

Because of the variance in fees, the city has been unable to budget in advance for total expenditures, which makes planning budgets difficult, Larson said.

"Those costs per infraction were not enough to cover our costs to operate the [King County district] court system," Larson said, noting that to make up those estimated fees, the city might have to forgo spending on other programs and projects.

"The city needs to be able to budget and control that budget as much as possible," Schaffer said.

Larson attributed the increase in fees to the King County District Court's Issaquah facility being a newer structure, built in 1999, and because other cities that have used the Issaquah division of the King County District Court in the past (including Issaquah) have since developed their own municipal courts, which means less money for the county to pay its court services and facility costs.

"Proportionally, we have to pay for our share of the facility itself," Larson said. "[ When King County built a new facility] our costs started to increase rapidly."

In comparison, utilization of Issaquah's municipal court could bring $18,000 a year in what Larson called "cost savings."

"The difference here is [we expect that] the revenues will not change, but the expenditure side will change," Larson said.

This is primarily because the city will be paying Issaquah a flat per-case cost for court services rather than a share of the total costs of court services and facilities (as under the King County contract).

Snoqualmie will be responsible for paying filing fees of no more than $153.30 for each criminal misdemeanor that is filed and no more than $30.66 for each traffic, parking or nontraffic infraction.

Beyond those fees, Snoqualmie will receive 100 percent of local court revenues from its cases, excluding probation revenues received at the municipal court and restitution or reimbursement issues.

"We have a lot more control over costs [with this contract]," said Schaffer.

"We're looking forward to servicing our community to the east and trying to help them out with their court services," said Issaquah Municipal Court Administrator Lynne Jacobs.

The Issaquah division of the King County District Court that Snoqualmie currently uses is located at 5415 220th Ave. S.E. in Issaquah. The municipal court location that the city will use at the start of the new year is at 135 E. Sunset Way in Issaquah.

Snoqualmie has used King County District Court services for at least 25 years, Larson noted.

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