Council votes to close city court

Winlsow Justice of the Peace to handle traffic and ordinance issues

When City Magistrate Marjorie Herron retires next week, her position will be retired as well.

On Friday, City Council voted 6-1 to turn responsibilities of the Magistrate Court over to the county and the Justice of the Peace. The decision came during a special executive session and reversed the Council's unanimous 6-0 decision from Tuesday's regular meeting to keep local control of the court. Council member Dee Rodriguez was absent on Tuesday.

Mayor Jim Boles called Friday's meeting to get answers that weren't available on Tuesday and settle the matter before he and one other council member left town this week.

"There were some questions that arose in executive session that were not answered. I got the feeling that there are some folks that would like some answers," he said before Friday's meeting.

Human Resource Director Sheri Lancaster contacted other Justices of the Peace and cities that contract with counties.

"Based on some of the conversations I've had with other JPs, cities and some other people involved with this, they reiterated over and over that the JP does have more than enough time to contribute," she said. "They didn't see any problem with taking on the additional caseload."

Winslow is the only city in Navajo or Apache Counties that still has its own court. City Attorney Dale Patton added that there are just a few communities in Coconino County that have a city court.

Council's decision to subcontract the court would save the city about $57,000 in salaries, according to Lancaster. That money could be used to hire an additional police officer, which could fill one of three open positions in the department.

According to the proposed 2005-06 budget, $117,009 is earmarked from the General Fund for the city court of which $15,285 is operating expenses. The remainder is salary and benefits for two positions.

Lancaster said that based on Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) between Navajo County and other municipalities, using the Justice of the Peace would cost $15,000, plus $35,000 for a court clerk and an additional $10,000 for incidentals. The totals are approximated, Lancaster added.

Based on numbers for the current fiscal year, the city court runs a deficit. Lancaster said as of the end of May, revenues from the court are about $88,000 but expenses are $94,500. Revenue projections for next year are $99,000 or $18,000 less than the budgeted expenses.

Revenue for the court is generated through traffic and ordinance citations issued by police officers. The actual revenue fluctuates based on the number of citations written. However, Patton said with an extra officer on the streets, more citations could be issued.

Lancaster also pointed out the city would save money by not building a courtroom in the new City Hall. The 2,400-square foot area designated for the court could be left unfinished saving the city approximately $275,000 in infrastructure costs. That money could be used toward the purchase of a ladder truck for the fire department. The truck is estimated to cost $500,000.

"The savings in personnel is going to be $57,000 a year and that's on-going. That is year to year to year. There is a one-time savings of $275,000. That is just one time because you just have to come with that once to do the construction and then that's over," Lancaster said.

The city would have flexibility under the IGA. Council could request regular reports from the Justice of the Peace, just as Herron has done on a quarterly basis. The county also audits finances to ensure the city receives all of its revenue.

Council member Judy Howell was thrilled after Tuesday's decision but was disappointed that her fellow council members reversed their earlier decision. She said she wanted to keep local control of the courts.

"Everyone says we're on the brink of growthS I really couldn't see one person down the line handling that kind of a caseload and a really think city court needs to be separate from county court," she said Wednesday.

On Friday, Howell made a motion to maintain the court but it died for a lack of a second.

Boles made a motion to pursue an IGA with Navajo County. When it becomes effective, money will be moved to the Human Resources fund to hire another police officer and money from future land sales up to $175,000 will be used to purchase a ladder truck.

Boles' motion further stated that any personnel displaced by the act should be given a chance to apply for the county clerk position.

Three members seconded the motion and it passed 6-1. Howell, casting the dissenting vote, said she supports using money from land sales to purchase a fire truck but would not support the rest of the motion.

Associate Magistrate Claudia Smith remains interim City Magistrate until an IGA can be enacted. Judge Alison Kolomitz is the Justice of the Peace for Winslow Justice Court.

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