Switch from municipal to King County District Court rings up savings for Auburn

There is a difference between what it would have cost the City to have kept its Municipal Court and not contracted with King County in 2012 to run a district court.

But to put a precise number on it in the moment isn’t easy, Rob Roscoe, director of risk management for the City of Auburn told city leaders recently.

For one thing, there are actual district court costs versus projected costs for all of 2017, and the latter figure is more problematic because King County doesn’t bill the city until later, Roscoe said, and of course, the city no longer has a municipal court.

“It’s a little bit of an art, I’ve gotta be honest, because of salaries and you don’t really know where things would have ended up, as well as staffing levels, and they can fluctuate,” Roscoe said.

Actual district court expenditures in 2016 were $1.8 million compared to $3 million projected for the scenario in 2016 wherein Auburn kept its municipal court.

The largest cost difference between the two courts is probation expenditures, which Roscoe projected would have been $1.4 million for 2016, and which were running already historically high when the city ran its own municipal court.

In 2012, the city had seven probation officers, in comparison with Renton’s 1.5 full-time equivalents, Roscoe said, adding that at any given time back then, the Auburn court was monitoring 700 people on probation.

Another savings, albeit smaller, concerns probation: since 2012, King County District Court has assumed all liability risks in carrying out its special, mandated duty to ensure victims are served correctly, so the City no longer pays that insurance bill.

Roscoe said Auburn’s case filings have risen since 2012 because the City has put 14 more officers on the street, and three more are waiting in the wings. But misdemeanants from Auburn are spending fewer days in the SCORE jail, from a 122 average daily population in 2013 to 79 in 2016.

Judicial philosophy plays a role.

“We had a very strict judge in the past, and King County is a little more lenient in its sentencing structure as far as days in jail,” Roscoe said.

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