County asks judges to account for spending

MONTESANO —The County Commissioners say the Superior Court judges are spending too much money and the commissioners are sending letters to them asking for an explanation.

“We’re doing due diligence,” County Commissioner Terry Willis said Monday afternoon.

The move comes amid the ongoing legal battle between the commissioners and the judges. In December, the commissioners had directed mainly personnel budget cuts to the detention center, which the judges claim jurisdiction over, and the Superior Court.

The judges declined to take most of the cuts, saying they have a minimum service level to protect. Instead, they filed a lawsuit against the commissioners claiming the separation of powers doctrine protects the courts and the commissioners overstepped their authority.

Some of the issues are before the Thurston County Superior Court and some of the issues are before the state Supreme Court.

The commissioners approved sending two letters on to the Juvenile Detention Center and the Grays Harbor Superior Court judges asking why their budgets are so out of whack, what steps they have already taken to cut their budgets and what more could be done in the future.

“We need to be prepared in case there’s a big expense out there that we don’t know about,” Willis said.

The biggest concern is the Juvenile Detention Center budget, which is on track to exceed its $2.016 million budget by $252,282. That’s about $100,000 worse than projected roughly a month ago.

“With such a big budget, if it’s off by 3 or 4 percent, that adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Willis said. “In the case of the detention center, we’re going to ask for a meeting to get down to the details and figure out what’s going on.”

The Superior Court is on track to exceed its $645,818 budget by $79,426.

Budget Director Brenda Sherman told the commissioners that the county’s $23.25 million operating budget has about $544,220 in new revenue, mainly from timber sales as well as the addition of liquor control board profits and a grant the Prosecutor’s Office received.

However, Sherman said all of those new gains are quickly eaten up by new expenses of $577,609, which includes costs for courthouse security, unbudgeted raises for the corrections division as well as the unbudgeted expenses for the Detention Center and Superior Court.

County Commissioner Mike Wilson said that since the commissioners control the purse strings, they really need to know from their department heads and fellow elected officials how much money is going to be spent and on what.