SIERRA VISTA — A 30-year-old agreement with the county for municipal court services has drawn the ire of some Sierra Vista council members.
The agreement, which would have been voted on at the City Council meeting on July 9, was removed from the agenda so that council members can review and discuss it further, said Mayor Rick Mueller.
At a City Council work session on July 7 when the topic was broached, City Councilwoman Kristine Wolfe expressed frustration that Cochise County officials had not submitted figures to the city detailing a breakdown of the revenues the court collects from different government entities.
The contract, which originated in 1990, 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.
Up until 2019, the city paid $99,500 a year for the municipal court services, Yarbrough said.
“Cochise County receives all of the revenues from fees, fines, surcharges, administrative fees, etc.,” Yarbrough said.
Wolfe complained that the county was asked in April 2019 for figures that would show the revenue stream the court receives from other entities other than Sierra Vista, Yarbrough said.
“There were 17 agencies (including Sierra Vista Police Department) that cited into JP5 (Justice of the Peace Precinct 5) in FY2020, based on the information I received recently,” Yarbrough said. “I’m talking about the revenue received by the court for the citations/charges filed by each agency.”
“She (Wolfe) was concerned with the lack of data on cases broken out by who cited them into the court, and the corresponding revenue from each entity,” Yarbrough added.
While the information Wolfe has been requesting started coming in recently, according to Yarbrough, no explanation has been provided regarding the delay. Additionally, at the July 7 City Council work session, City Manager Charles Potucek told Wolfe and the rest of the panel that the numbers that had been sent by the county did not look right and he was uncomfortable releasing them.
“If I had better numbers, believe me I’d give them to you,” Potucek told Wolfe.
“I know I asked for them a year ago,” Wolfe said on July 7, referring to the figures. “This is not the way Sierra Vista operates. “
Equally frustrated, Councilman Will Benning suggested the city sever its contract with the county and start its own magistrate court. But Potucek said that would be more costly than “working with the county.”
Wolfe said she wanted the item tabled for the July 9 City Council meeting and Mueller removed it from the agenda altogether.
The mayor told the Herald/Review that after the work session on July 7, he received some information from the county that prompted him to remove the item from the City Council meeting agenda.
“I don’t want a premature decision,” Mueller said. “I spoke with the county supervisor and I received information (that may be linked to the contract) and we will have to discuss this at a work session.”
Cochise County Supervisor Tom Borer said county officials also would be discussing the issue at a work session Wednesday. Because of the pending work session, Borer declined further comment on the issue.