While the county's mid-year budget is looking better than expected, five murder trials pending in Clallam County Superior Court could cost the county more than $4 million.
Defendants Bobby Smith, Kevin Bradfield, Patrick Drum, Casey Balch and Darold Stenson are at various stages of the trial process in Clallam County Superior Court.
Though Superior Court has a 2012 budget of $1,313,300, with 47 percent spent as of the mid-year review, Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones said in a July 18 executive summary the murder trials could cost the county as much as $4.5 million.
To put that amount in context, the entire 2012 operations budget for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office is $4.6 million.
County Commissioner Jim McEntire said since the trials won’t all happen at once, the potential $4.5 million wouldn’t have to all be paid out at once. But it is something that must be accounted for, he said.
“We’re not in desperate straits right now but we’ve really got to watch our pennies because it will be very difficult to replace that money in our reserves should we have to spend it on a big felony trial,” he said.
After passing the 2012 budget, the county had about $9.4 million in its reserve fund. The county must have at least $6.5 million in rainy day reserves by law.
In the budget update summary, Jones said the county is “doing a little better than expected” primarily because the state Legislature’s cuts didn’t hit the county as hard as was anticipated, there were “nice surprises” in revenue collections from the Department of Natural Resources and the Federal Government Payment in Lieu of Taxes and the P.U.D. Privilege Tax, and, most important, operating expenditures throughout the county’s departments are down $1.2 million.
Unfortunately, the economy is worse than expected with sales tax collections and interest income down a combined $308,000, according to the summary.
McEntire said there are other costs coming down the line in addition to the pending murder trials, including a 2.4 percent cost of living adjustment. The COLA already is agreed to by the county and workers unions after the parties came to a stalemate during the 2012 budget process.
Additionally, starting next year the county must pay an increased amount into retirement funds, he said.
“The picture at this point looks OK,” he said. “We’re not in desperate straits where we have to take extraordinary action but we’ve got things coming up we know will take more money.”
McEntire said it will be important for the county leaders to look carefully at revenue ideas for next year and how they will spend money.