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Poulsbo ends court relocation talks with Bainbridge Island

Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson addresses the Bainbridge City Council Wednesday. - Brad Camp/For the Herald
Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson addresses the Bainbridge City Council Wednesday.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Herald

The City of Poulsbo is ending negotiations with the City of Bainbridge Island to relocate the island's municipal court to the Poulsbo City Hall, according to an email from Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson acquired by the North Kitsap Herald.

The City of Poulsbo will instead attempt to relocate its Police Department to City Hall at 200 NE Moe St., the release states.

"After many months of careful analysis, the City of Poulsbo and the City of Bainbridge Island diverged on the question of a fair market rent that would satisfy both parties' needs," states the release, which was signed by Erickson.

Erickson, speaking to The Herald today while en route from Olympia, said the move “ran into some snags, basically because of the cost.”

“Things could change, but that would take more than several years,” she said.

The court relocation is a scheduled agenda item at tonight's Bainbridge Island City Council meeting, which begins at 4 p.m. An update on “Municipal Court Relocation” is scheduled for 15 minutes on the Emerging Issues portion of the agenda, which begins at 7:30 p.m.

The two cities began talks last year after Poulsbo leaders approached the City of Bainbridge Island with the idea, in an effort to increase revenue to help pay off Poulsbo’s new municipal campus.

The City of Poulsbo is required by state law to charge fair market rent for use of its property. Bainbridge officials were unwilling to pay the $51,000 the City of Poulsbo deemed fair market value, Erickson wrote in the release.

Bainbridge City Councilman Barry Peters said his municipal court’s annual rent is currently about $42,000 a year.

Erickson’s press release also states that Bainbridge officials expressed concern over needed improvements to City Hall and that Poulsbo leaders did not agree with their assessment.

The City of Poulsbo will determine whether to relocate its police force to City Hall after a due diligence study expected to take several months. It will consider use of space and cost in moving the department from its current site at 367 NE Hostmark. Poulsbo officials had previously considered relocating the force to City Hall, but decided against the move after making renovations to police headquarters.

Poulsbo Police Chief Dennis Swiney said today he could not comment on the proposed move.

A citizen committee built a grass roots movement against the court move on Bainbridge Island. Bainbridge Judge Kate Carruthers said the move would be detrimental, and Bainbridge council members were split on their decision to move forward with negotiations last fall.

Peters, an attorney who served 15 years as assistant general counsel of Verizon Communications, said cities should look for ways to work together on issues of mutual interest, such as roads or equipment. But moving a city court to another jurisdiction “doesn’t make sense.”

“I have always believed that a municipal court is one of the basic functions of local government, and it should be located in the community it serves,” Peters said. “If you were a small business and you had 23,000 customers and all of them were on Bainbridge Island, you wouldn’t build your center in another community.”

Peters said the Bainbridge municipal court has 10,000 visits a year. Moving it to Poulsbo would add an average of 16 round-trip miles to each person who needs to visit the court. “That’s a lot of extra miles,” Peters said. “It’s a waste of time and money.”

Peters’ constituents seem to agree. He said citizen groups have offered to finance necessary improvements to the Bainbridge courthouse. And 800 residents signed a petition calling for the Bainbridge court to stay in Bainbridge. In all of the meetings he’s attended, “I couldn’t count even a dozen who have asked us to move the court.”

He added, “We have an excellent municipal court. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Even though the municipal court move didn't work out, Erickson said she looks forward to identifying other ways the two cities can work together. Poulsbo assists the Jefferson County planning department and has had "ongoing conversations" with the Kitsap Public Utilities District on fiberoptic infrastructure. In addition, Poulsbo's Public Works Department and neighboring municipalities have shared equipment.

"We have a good working relationship," Erickson said of Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island. "There are multiple ways we can share."

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