Letters to the Editor

Islanders would lose local access if court moves | Letters | Oct. 8

We must avoid the temptation to decide whether or not to relocate our Municipal Court based entirely on dollar savings.

Even if the savings indicated in Table 1 of the exhaustive 11-page study the council considered Wednesday are accurate and complete, and that is open to question, we must also consider the non-monetary costs (and benefits, if any).

The difference in incremental annual costs between keeping our court at home and sending it off-island would be only $1,142 in 2011.

By the fifth year it may grow to about $19,000, which happens to be less than the difference in security officer costs (about $25,000).

And the cost to lease the Bainbridge Island property will still be $3,636 less than the Poulsbo option.

It’s not the lease costs that make the difference. The real difference is between security costs – rising from $19,906 higher here next year to $24,915 higher here than in Poulsbo in the fifth year.

We certainly appreciate Poulsbo’s generous offer to pay 50 percent of the security costs, when they will be using the court facilities only 40 percent of the time.

But the real question is: Why does security cost so much more here than there?

Fortunately, the City Council is already addressing the difficult issue of containing the compensation cost growth across the board. We wish them well. When they succeed, as they must, the dollar cost advantage of moving the court elsewhere will likely disappear completely.

What about the non-monetary costs, which far exceed the $1,142 monetary savings next year and even the increase to $18,494 in 2016 – provided all the assumptions and assurances hold.

The non-monetary costs to achieve this questionable dollar saving are important.

Our citizens would lose their local access to all the services our court provides on the island.

Our court would be unable to expand capacity to handle any increase in demand (from 4,225 case filings last year to a projected 6,408 this year and from 3,846 hearings last year to a projected 5,000 this year.

The amount of travel time (time away from actual law enforcement) for police officers required in court would double. And, most important, it would be fundamentally wrong to send one of the three basic elements of our government off shore.

“The court,” as Judge Kate Caruthers puts it in the conclusion to her letter to the mayor and council, “is the third branch of government.

It is not an optional, accessory or minor function. The visible presence of a court in a community reflects its values; respect for the rule of law, access to justice, due process, fairness and accountability.” She’s right.

Read her letter and the rest of the study at http://www.ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us/documents/exec/clerk/cc_agn_1010/100610_court.pdf.

Our council is right to consider all options in responding to the city’s budget challenges.

But as appealing as moving the court to Poulsbo might seem at first, after careful investigation and sober reflection it becomes clear that it’s a bad idea.

Chris Snow

Fort Ward Hill

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