The city hasn’t decided major details such as whether to build its own courthouse in Meridian or pay Ada County to handle magistrate court proceedings, including misdemeanors and infractions. Rough estimates put the initial cost of opening a new courthouse in Meridian at $500,000, Nary said. Similarly rough estimates predict the ongoing yearly cost of operating a magistrate court will be $350,000 to $500,000 — about what the city would have to pay the county to handle its magistrate services.
Nary said Mayor Tammy de Weerd would prefer to build a new courthouse or remodel an existing building for the same purpose in Meridian’s core as long as it doesn’t cost much more than paying Ada County, because a Meridian facility would render some economic benefit to the city.
Late last month, Fourth District judges released their ruling on a decades-long dispute over whether Meridian and Garden City should chip in to help Ada County cover the costs of magistrate court services. The panel reversed a 1994 ruling ordering Garden City to provide its own services because Garden City’s share of the total caseload has declined to only 5 percent.
But cases originating in Meridian accounted for 20 percent of the total in 2015, leading the judges to find that the city must work toward providing its own facilities or services.
The city of Boise, where almost half of the county’s magistrate caseload originates, has provided its own facilities or paid Ada County to handle those cases since the 1970s.
Meridian argued that the construction of the new Ada County Courthouse, completed in early 2002, warranted rescinding the 1994 order requiring the city to provide magistrate services because the new building has the capacity to continue handling Meridian’s caseload.
“Meridian misses the point,” the Fourth District judges’ order reads. “The 1994 order was issued not simply because additional facilities were needed — thought they likely were — but because it was ‘no longer reasonable’ for the city of Boise and Ada County to pay Meridian’s way...That calculus — as to Meridian — has not changed.”
Meridian also argued that requiring it to pay for magistrate services is essentially double taxation, because its residents pay county taxes that support courthouse operations.The judges rejected this argument, too, comparing the required payments to fees that, in combination with taxes, pay for other services and facilities.
“Taxes fund municipal pools, but cities may still charge an admittance fee,” the judges’ decision reads. “Taxes fund parks, but cities may still charge when parks are used for special events. Taxes fund city streets, but cities may still install meters and charge users for parking.”
Nary said the judges’ ruling likely will take years to implement, because the city has to budget money for it. Building a new courthouse would require planning, designing, permitting and construction.
Nary said the ruling also might send a ripple effect through Meridian’s entire legal apparatus. Since 2002, the city of Boise has prosecuted Meridian’s infractions and misdemeanors. Today, those services cost Meridian almost $350,000, Nary said.
Now that Meridian must provide its own magistrate court — or pay the county to handle the caseload — the city may consider expanding its legal department and ending its agreement with Boise, Nary said.
“All of that’s on the table for discussion,” he said.