By Randall Gaylord, San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney
Critics have written that spending for legal services out of line with other counties. But reports of the State Auditor reports show your county council spends less on legal services than comparable counties, when measured as a percentage of the county budget.
Measuring spending in a prosecutor’s office as a percentage of the budget is useful because it reflects differences in county size and workload. More dollars spent means more contracts and people doing the work – people like police officers who send cases to the prosecutor.
There are nine comparable prosecutor offices that do criminal, coroner and civil work, including work required by the GMA. In 2010 these nine counties spent between 4% and 11% of the general fund on legal services, with an average of 7.6%. In San Juan County, just 5.5% of the general fund was spent on legal services. Only Douglas County with a big city population was lower.
Using this same method for the total county budget shows prosecutor spending ranged between 1.7% and 4.6%, with an average of 3.1%. In San Juan County, just 1.7% of the total budget was spent on legal services – the lowest in the state.
The people in this county rely heavily upon our legal system to resolve civil conflicts, and the prosecutor participates when required by law. Since 1995, administrative agencies reported 127 decisions in San Juan cases compared to 36 in Pacific and 23 in Douglas.
In criminal cases, deputy prosecutors handle over 2000 hearings a year including all of the work generated from the Town of Friday Harbor. Our superior court is a district unto itself with a full workload, compared to Pacific County, which is in a three-county district with just 45 percent of a full workload.
Your County Council is right to protect funding for legal services.