County cuts city’s court costs, dispute ends

The city of Oak Harbor won’t be splitting from Island County to start its own municipal court, but there still could be a night court in the city someday.

City and county officials officially resolved a long-standing stalemate Monday over the amount the city pays for overhead costs at the joint district and municipal court. The county commissioners adopted a new four-year contract Monday that cuts the overhead cost from $30,000 to $17,200 a year.

“We’re as pleased as punch,” Oak Harbor Prosecutor Bill Hawkins said. “The quality of the judges was just great, there’s no problem with that. The issue has always been about overhead costs.”

The city currently contracts with the county to run the city’s municipal court as a department of the Island County District Court, which is located on SE Eighth Avenue in Oak Harbor. Peter Strow is the elected judge, and Linda Kipling is the court commissioner, which is similar to a judge.

City officials have long complained about the $30,000-a-year rent the county charges the city for use of the court building. About a year ago, the city gave the county a two-year notice that it would be pulling out of contract and starting its own court.

Hawkins was hired as the city prosecutor last year. One of his jobs was to investigate the feasibility of setting up a municipal court for the city. He was especially interested in starting a night court, which would be convenient for working folks who have to make court dates.

Island County Budget Director Elaine Marlow negotiated the deal with city officials. She said there was some misunderstanding about what the overhead fee funded; city officials didn’t realize that it helped cover the costs of maintenance, building repairs, janitorial work and other costs.

In the end, the county and city officials compromised by using a federal grant formula to estimate overhead costs, coming up with the $17,200-a-year figure. In addition, the city will pay 22 percent of annual judicial and associated costs of the court, which is based on the percentage of filings coming from within the city.

As part of the contract, the district court officials will consider scheduling city matters as a “night court” in the future.

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