City will prosecute minor offenses, end contract with county prosecutor

The City of Poulsbo will end its contract with the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office for prosecution services in Municipal Court, in favor of bringing the job closer to home.

POULSBO — The City of Poulsbo will end its contract with the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office for prosecution services in Municipal Court, in favor of bringing the job closer to home.

The City Council voted unanimously on Feb. 11 to allow Mayor Becky Erickson to sign a letter notifying the county that the city will cancel its contract.

“There are a couple reasons why this is occurring,” Erickson said at the council’s meeting. “There has been a view for some time that we have been overpaying for prosecution services. We have been subsidizing other jurisdictions by paying $97,000 a year for prosecution services.

We can get better coverage by taking this in house. The service will be even better. It will be in our office.”

The city’s current contract with the prosecutor’s office is for 2014-16. Poulsbo will begin in-house prosecution on May 1.

The change will not only allow the city to save money, Erickson said, the savings will help fund other priorities, such as a new school resource officer in the North Kitsap School District.

An in-house job

The county prosecutor’s office will still handle the city’s felony crimes in Superior Court, rather, it will no longer prosecute crimes that would normally go to Municipal Court.

“This is for things like domestic violence or driving under the influence,” Erickson said.

The city pays the county $97,051 per year for the services. By having the city’s risk manager, Kylie Purves, take on the job, the city will save approximately $55,000, Erickson said.

Purves has a history as a criminal lawyer with 10 years experience in the courtroom, and is a pro tem judge for the City of Bremerton. She was a public defender for Port Orchard before coming to Poulsbo, during the same time Poulsbo’s current police chief Alan Townsend was chief of Port Orchard.

“She is well versed in this. She knows what she’s doing,” Erickson said. “And we just don’t have a lot of cases anymore. Our case load is really falling.”

According to a Feb. 11 council presentation, municipal court cases have declined by 30 percent since the prosecution contract was last negotiated in 2013, and there have been four jury trials in the last 10 years. Purves told the council that the caseload was well within her abilities.

“It’s a skill set of mine that the city hasn’t been using,” Purves said.

Purves will receive a $10,000 raise to her current pay of $78,710 for the added duties.

The move will also allow the city more control over prosecuting code infractions, which it has not regularly done in the past.

“I don’t want to sound Draconian, we aren’t going to start chasing people around,” Erickson said. “There are times when people do things willfully to violate our code, and this will give us a little more control over that prosecution.”

In addition to Purves’ raise, the city will incur other costs for the move, such as $5,000 for access to Westlaw, a legal research tool, $2,500 for mandatory travel and training, $5,000 for supplies, and $17,500 for professional services and labor for the transition to in-house prosecution.

“We will essentially be setting up a new department in the city,” Purves said. “The municipal court only handles gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors for the city. All the really bad cases will still go down to Port Orchard to Superior Court.”

Purves said that she has a good relationship with the county prosecutor and expects a smooth transition.

Savings and cops

The approximately $55,000 in savings from the move to in-house prosecution may not last long. The money will likely be diverted to pay for a school resource officer in the North Kitsap School District, a project the city has desired ever since Townsend became chief of the local police force. The money has not officially been slated for the officer, but the mayor hopes the council will vote in the future to divert funds to the school project.

“This was basically Chief Townsend’s idea,” Erickson said about the change in prosecution services.

Townsend told the council that the prosecution move is one of many ideas he has entertained to save money. Another recent savings pursuit is sharing a court security officer with the City of Bremerton.

The city’s police force and the North Kitsap School District came to an agreement in January to restore police presence in local schools after a six-year absence.

The city and the school district will share the $75,000 cost of the new officer, however, the school district will work up to paying for its half. The first year it will pay 25 percent of the costs, then 37.5 percent the second year, and 50 percent the third year and forward.