SIERRA VISTA— With some misgivings, the City Council on Thursday approved another year-long contract that allows Cochise County to operate its municipal court services.
But in the new agreement, which was approved by a 5-2 vote, the city can withhold payment to the county if the latter fails to provide quarterly reports to the city, a Sierra Vista official said.
Additionally, Mayor Rick Mueller said if there are still issues next year when the contract expires, the city could strike out on its own, establishing a municipal court.
Although the contract between the two government entities — known as a consolidated court agreement — has been in place since 1990, a couple of City Council members have expressed concerns about the arrangement. The latter is an intergovernmental agreement between the two entities that calls for Cochise County to handle all of Sierra Vista’s municipal court matters. That’s done at the Sierra Vista Justice Court Precinct Five.
As part of the contract, the city pays the county $161,000 a year to run its municipal court. Deputy City Manager Victoria Yarbrough said $100,000 of that is for court services and the remaining $61,000 pays for a part-time magistrate pro-tem.
The city also contributes all the “fines and charges associated with citations issued within the community,” the agreement shows.
At Thursday’s meeting, City Manager Chuck Potucek said the projection for revenues from fines and fees for the county for fiscal year 2021 could be “north of $300,000.” Yarbrough said Sierra Vista’s cases make up about 60 percent of that.
At a council work session earlier this month, council members Kristine Wolfe and Will Benning raised concerns regarding financial information they had requested from the county a year ago.
The item was on the City Council’s July 9 agenda, but after a tense discussion about the consolidated court agreement at a July 7 work session, Mueller removed it. Wolfe was especially frustrated that the county had not sent the city information showing the revenue stream the county receives from other law-enforcement agencies that cite into the Sierra Vista Justice Court.
Under the new agreement approved Thursday— Wolfe and Benning voted against it— the county will begin sending the reports quarterly, Yarbrough said. Since the $161,000 the city pays the county is divided into quarterly payments, Yarbrough said the city could withhold payment until the county’s report arrives.
Mueller, also not overly enthusiastic about the contract, said the city would see how the new agreement develops over the next year.
“Let’s do it for a year and see if they’re sending our reports,” he said. “If we see this is still an issue after a year— we’re done.
“We’re going to have to come up with a plan and come up with something on our own,” Mueller added.
In other business at the City Council meeting, the panel unanimously approved the city’s FY20-21 final budget of $86,748,629, which is unchanged from the tentative budget approved June 25.
Also, the City Council is scheduled to meet Aug. 13 at 5 p.m. to set the FY 20-21 primary property tax levy. The tax rate will equal $0.1106 per $100 of assessed valuation. The overall property tax revenue estimate at this rate equals $372,034.