Final decision on court in Poulsbo’s hands

With finances emerging again as the deciding factor, the fate of the Bainbridge Island Municipal Court appears to hinge on the Poulsbo City Council’s inclination.

Sometime during the next few weeks, the Poulsbo council will announce whether it wants to sign a lease to begin sharing its court facility inside the new Poulsbo City Hall. The Bainbridge council voted in December to move forward with lease negotiations to co-locate in Poulsbo, despite widespread objection from islanders.

Since that decision, the task force, composed of councilors and city officials from both locales, have met and stamped out the requirements for a lease. If the Poulsbo council approves the lease, it will then go to the Bainbridge council for a vote.

Money was the initial trigger for co-location, but safety concerns with an isolated building and an unregulated parking lot turned out to be the primary justification for the majority vote by councilors Bob Scales, Bill Knobloch, Kim Brackett and Kirsten Hytopoulos to authorize negotiations to begin.

The current Rolling Bay facility has long been criticized for being inadequate. Originally the city intended to build a new police and court facility, and Rolling Bay was a temporary location, but the cash-strapped city is most likely years away from that option.

Some 800 islanders indicated their objection to the move by signing a petition, primarily arguing that the court was too important to move elsewhere.

One group even organized a plan to provide the cash to make security investments to the Rolling Bay facility, providing some $30,000 in private donations, and negotiating a $24,000 annual rental cost with a five-year lease and three additional five-year options with the owner.

The community proposal has yet to be formally presented to council, and may not, depending on what decisions are made in the coming weeks.

“The City Council won’t consider any updates to the Rolling Bay facility unless we decide not to go through with the lease agreement with Poulsbo,” Scales said this week.

Bainbridge has asked for an approximate rent below their budget of $42,500 and a more stable lease rate than the city’s current month-to-month arrangement at Rolling Bay, according to Scales.

“It is my understanding, from Bob Scales and Bill Knobloch, that it is simply a matter of economics,” said Poulsbo Councilor Ed Stern. “But, I’m sensible and know that there are other opinions from the island that are separate from the economics, and I am also fully aware that nothing is over until its over.”

Stern said Poulsbo is making sure it can provide a lease rate below the approximate $42,500 needed for Bainbridge to go forward.

“The building owner at Rolling Bay has lowered costs and increased amenities ... so at the very least Poulsbo has been an assistance to Bainbridge Island if for no other reason than we have provided credible leverage to get all the work done with the building owner,” said Stern.

Leasing the space would help Poulsbo pay down their debts, but a portion of the rent would also go to the county, which has equity in the court space of the Poulsbo City Hall building.

Municipal Court Judge Kathryn Carruthers has denounced the move from the beginning. She attended a task force meeting last week and voiced her concern that the enclosed parking structure in Poulsbo would pose a threat since it doesn’t have security cameras and would provide ample hiding places for would-be attackers. Due to the open nature of the City Hall building Carruthers said there are safety concerns in a building with public entrances.

Carruthers estimated it would cost about $80,000 in one-time costs to move to Poulsbo. The city would need to pay for repairs to the current Rolling Bay building, as well as modifications at the Poulsbo location and the hard costs of moving the equipment and setting up in a new building, according to Carruthers.

Bauer estimated the moving costs would be more around $2,000.

The decision is still a hot button issue, and neither side appear to have cooled much since December.

“It was clearly a political decision to go forward with this lease,” said Carruthers. “The four council members who voted for this are the only ones who support this. I don’t know anyone in the community who does.”

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