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District court nixes Poulsbo office to save money

POULSBO — Citing budget cuts and an insufficient workload, the Kitsap County District Court closed its Poulsbo location this week, consolidating all services to the county courthouse in Port Orchard.

A decrease in deputy positions at the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office led to fewer citations needing processing in the North End, said North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer.

The number of small claims passing through the satellite court were also down, and work had to be shuffled so employees in Poulsbo had something to do, he said.

Another satellite court, in Silverdale, closed in 2008.

“I tried to keep Poulsbo open for as long as I possibly could,” said Maury Baker, district court administrator. Cutting costs has “made us rethink the entire way we do business."

Eight positions have been cut from court ranks in the last two years, and the court switched to a paperless system to save money. Some first-appearance criminal hearings are done by video so inmates do not have to be transported from jail, Baker said.

He suspects the Poulsbo closure will save the court about $120,000 a year.

Several Poulsbo city leaders spoke out against the closure during a meeting Wednesday, saying it will have a negative impact on residents.

“I find it interesting the way the district court is solving a budget crisis is to cut off services for everyone north of Bremerton,” said Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson.

Both Erickson and Bauer said they are reviewing the details of the court’s budget to determine if the closure is justified.

The county committed to paying a percentage of the cost of Poulsbo’s new city hall, where it originally planned to move the Poulsbo district court offices. Its contribution, roughly $1 million, will likely come in annual payments to the city despite the court’s move-out, Bauer said.

“I don’t believe what they’re doing is appropriate,” Erickson said. “It’s foolish, they already paid for the building.”

Poulsbo Municipal Court Administrator Linda Baker said Thursday was the final day for district court employees in Poulsbo.

Bauer, who met with Baker Wednesday, said if the county’s budget picture improves the satellite court could be restored.

“I think (Baker) has done everything he can to live within his means as we’ve cut budgets in the last couple years,” Bauer said. “We’re just in a budget situation where we can’t do everything we used to.”

A joint committee between the city councils of Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island is considering relocating Bainbridge court facilities to the new city hall to save money. Poulsbo Councilman Ed Stern, who sits on that committee, estimated the district court’s closure wouldn’t have a major financial impact on the city, causing a loss of about $12,000 a year.

But “it’s really an inconvenience to the people of Kitsap County,” he said.

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