By Tammy Gray-Searles —
As the state continues to put the financial squeeze on counties, justice court fees may be passed on to cities in Navajo County under a proposal expected to go before the Board of Supervisors on April 12.
Supervisors were expected to hear the proposal during a March meeting, but tabled the issue until their next meeting due to protests from Winslow, Snowflake and Taylor. Holbrook has already approved an intergovernmental agreement based on the proposal.
Assistant County Manager Dusty Parsons explained that in most Arizona counties, the county government operates justice courts, and each city or town operates its own municipal court. In Navajo County, however, the cities have joined with the county to operate a single justice court that hears both county and city cases. Under the current agreement, cities and towns pay a flat fee to the county for operation of the courts.
Under the proposal, each city or town would pay based on the number of misdemeanor cases filed.
According to Parsons, the plan is necessary in order for the county to continue to offer combined court services. He noted that the county attorney’s office may have to cut staffing, which would make it difficult for the county to prosecute certain misdemeanor cases, if cities and towns do not pay their share of costs.
According to documents provided to the Board of Supervisors, Navajo County is subsidizing more than $200,000 in city and town court costs each year. Estimates of the annual cost to each city are $51,879 for Holbrook, $93,855 for Winslow, $13,479 for Snowflake, $27,932 for Show Low, $11,140 for Pinetop-Lakeside and $7,101 for Show Low.
The county incurs the costs by providing collection services, as well as county attorney, public defender and legal defender services. Fees charged to each city would be based on a calculation of court staff, operation and collection costs, as well as attorney costs, which would then be divided based on the percentage of cases handled for a municipality in each court. For example, if nine percent of the cases in Holbrook Justice Court were filed by the Holbrook Police Department, the City of Holbrook would bear nine percent of the cost of operating that justice court.
The county supervisors decided to delay making a decision on the proposal until cities opposing the measure could have more time to discuss it with county staff. Supervisor David Tenney cast the lone vote against tabling the measure.
Winslow City Attorney Dale Patton is opposed to the measure, Parsons noted. Parsons explained that Winslow officials have taken the position that the county is attempting to pass on costs for which it is responsible. He noted that Patton has suggested the creation of a special jail tax district. Parsons said that he does not believe the time is right to create a jail district.
Supervisors will next meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 12, at the Navajo County Complex in Holbrook. The issue is expected to be on the agenda.