If you get ticketed for speeding in Milton, you could soon be driving to Puyallup to go to court.
In its latest outsourcing of services to offset declining revenues, the City of Milton plans to move its court services six miles from City Hall to Puyallup starting Jan. 1.
The Milton City Council voted 4-2 Monday to have the City of Puyallup provide court services at a cost of up to $147,653 in 2013.
Subir Mukerjee, Milton’s city administrator, said the five-year agreement is expected to save the city up to $50,000 a year.
The Puyallup City Council is expected to approve the agreement Tuesday.
Milton isn’t alone in outsourcing its court services. Eatonville started contracting with Bonney Lake Nov. 1 for court services, including a judge. Lakewood already provides court services for University Place.
“This is not something unique,” Mukerjee said. “A lot of cities are looking at how to contain costs in light of their budgets.”
Milton plans to lay off its court administrator and clerk, who both work full time. Because of costs for their unemployment pay, the savings wouldn’t reach $50,000 in the first year, Mukerjee said.
Council member Bryan Ott said he voted against moving the court because most – if not all – of the first-year savings would be used up by the two workers’ unemployment benefits. The amount saved beyond the first year is uncertain, he said.
“I just felt that the amount of money the city was going to be saving at this particular point of time was not enough to warrant moving the court system to Puyallup,” Ott said.
For Milton, a city of 6,985 that straddles the Pierce-King county line, the agreement is the latest move to farm out services and cut costs.
For several years, Milton has grappled with a decline in revenues because of a slowdown in building projects and a drop in tax revenue caused by the economy. Milton’s general fund budget will fall 9 percent from $4.03 million this year to $3.66 million in 2013.
At the same time, costs have risen – especially for medical insurance.
The outsourcing push started in 2009 when Milton contracted with Fife to provide planning services. It also contracts with Puyallup for information technology services.
City officials are working on farming out more services. The Milton City Council approved an agreement Monday night for the City of Fife to provide 10 hours of administrative support each week for the council at an annual cost of $16,380. A temporary worker has been doing that job.
Milton also is hoping to permanently transfer fire services to East Pierce Fire & Rescue. The city has had a contract with the fire district to provide fire and advanced medical capabilities for nearly three years. Both the City Council and East Pierce Fire & Rescue commissioners have agreed to put a measure on the ballot in April that would annex Milton into the East Pierce district.
Under the court services agreement, Milton would retain its current Municipal Court Judge Sandy Allen, appointed by the council. Her four-year contract for $48,000 a year expires at the end of 2013.
Cases would continue to be heard one day a week on the same day: Tuesdays. But instead of holding court in the council chambers in Milton’s City Hall at 1000 Laurel St., Allen would preside over Milton Municipal Court six miles away in one of Puyallup’s two courtrooms at 929 E. Main Ave.
Puyallup would provide court services including a clerk and prosecutor. Milton would pay extra if a public defender was needed.
Municipal courts handle civil traffic violations and criminal misdemeanors, such as domestic violence, driving under the influence and theft.
In 2011, 1,476 cases were filed in Milton Municipal Court. Puyallup Municipal Court had 13,188 case filings.
Steve Kirkelie, Puyallup’s deputy city attorney, said Puyallup’s court operations have the capacity to handle Milton’s case load.
Both cities would benefit, he said.
“There’s definitely a revenue benefit to Puyallup and a savings to Milton,” Kirkelie said. “As cities are facing budget crunches, they’re looking for ways to be more efficient.”
Mukerjee said the downside to outsourcing is losing some control over court services.
“Every community wants to have complete control over their own services,” Mukerjee said. “We have to be flexible. We have to adapt to these changing financial realities.”