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Winlock weighing Municipal Court against District Court

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The Winlock City Council has begun looking into whether or not they would save money by dissolving their municipal court and sending traffic and misdemeanor cases to Lewis County District Court instead.

Discussed during the council's Nov. 24 meeting, Council Member Aaron Mummert, who serves on the city's Finance Committee, said he was looking for fellow officials to give their consensus to at least investigate if such a change would be feasible, not saying he is displeased with the services provided by the court but rather is "trying to save the city as much money as possible."

"It's not something we absolutely have to have," said Mummert of Municipal Court, stating his proposal was along the same lines of an Oct. 27 proposal be put before the council to potentially dissolve the Winlock Police Department and contract with a nearby agency for services. (As of the most recent reports from City Hall, officials are still speaking with nearby cities to determine their options for contracted services.)

If Winlock were to contract with District Court, they would pay a flat rate to have their misdemeanor and traffic cases prosecuted at the courthouse in Chehalis rather than at Winlock City Hall, and the court would bear all costs related to judges, attorneys, interpreters, juries and related services and would bill the defendants, when appropriate, to recover their costs.

Winlock is currently expecting to spend roughly $47,600 on Municipal Court next year, according to preliminary budget figures for 2015, while expecting to take in $22,700 in court revenue, leaving around $24,900 the city does not plan to recuperate. If the cost to contract with District Court ends us being less than this difference, officials may consider it more beneficial to opt for District Court instead, though city staff were still researching potential costs as of press time and are expected to report their findings at an upcoming council meeting.

In an interview on Nov. 26, Mayor Lonnie J. Dowell explained these efforts to reduce spending by potentially eliminating city departments does not reflect an immediate need for budget cuts, but rather ongoing efforts by officials to reduce spending in the long-term.

He said, according to a 2015 budget proposal currently before the council, Winlock expects to continue with its current court and police services into next year, unless the city can determine it would be in the clear financial interest of its residents to do otherwise.

When asked how the local convenience of utilizing Municipal Court would weigh on a decision to contract with District Court, Dowell said he felt the matter should simply be a financial issue for the city, stating, if they contract with District Court, a resident who chooses to run a stopsign in Winlock should consider if it will be worth driving to Chehalis to respond to their citation.

When asked if Vader had been informed of the potential to dissolve Municipal Court, as they contract with Winlock for such services, Dowell said the other city had yet to be approached as Winlock was hoping to first learn if District Court would be a viable option before moving forward.

Winlock Municipal Court is currently held the first and third Thursdays of the month at 3 p.m. in City Hall, unless cancelled due to a federal holiday, and such proceedings are open to the public.

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