News

Killer question: Is money justified?

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

For three weeks, the Metropolitan King County Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee has been deliberating whether to appropriate almost $4 million from the Green River Killer investigation reserve fund to pay for current expenses as part of a six-month review of criminal justice agencies’ progress.

Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, a member of the budget committee and the council member who represents Federal Way, said he’s not entirely convinced the money law enforcement and prosecutors are asking for is actually needed.

“I’m still trying to make sure we’re not seeing an escalation of cost driven by demand rather than need,” he said. “There’s a tendency by the public defender’s office and the prosecutor’s office to wrap cost for a special project like this along with additional operational costs, given the tight financial restraints every agency had to go through during the last budget cycle.”

That makes him skeptical of the almost $4 million request, and he said he’s being deliberate in deciding whether to pass along the money.

The committee discussed a $12.1 million budget last week to cover the Green River investigation and prosecution costs for 2002 and 2003, but that budget includes a proviso: Investigators and prosecutors must show they need the money before the council will approve it.

Criminal justice agencies have spent about $4.7 million of the almost $6 million the council allocated in the budget last December. The agencies have requested the council carry over the $900,000 remaining and add another $6.5 million, which makes a total allocation of $12.1 million for 2002 and 2003. Of that, they want about $3.9 million transferred from a reserve fund into a current expense fund.

But when the council approved allocating money to continue investigating the evidence and building a case against Gary Ridgway, the 54-year-old Federal Way-area truck painter accused of being the Green River Killer, the council told criminal justice agencies they would approve half of the amount requested and revisit the budget in six months to see how they were doing.

If the committee ultimately agrees the sheriff’s office, prosecutor’s office and public defender’s office are spending prudently, it will approve the $3.9 allocation from the reserve fund to the current expense fund.

The investigation cost the county about $11 million between 1984 and summer 2001.

As council members deliberated in Seattle, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-9th District) secured $2.7 million in federal money to assist in the investigation portion of the case.

The three-year U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing grant Smith snagged will allow the sheriff’s office to hire another 15 sworn officers, all of whom would help investigate the Green River murders.

The hiring grant will provide up to 75 percent of the total cost of salary and benefits for each new officer over three years up to $75,000 per officer.

Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng has built a legal team of attorneys and paralegals to wade through thousands of pieces of evidence related to the women Ridgway is charged with killing.

Meanwhile, sheriff detectives are continuing to process old evidence for new information they hope will link Ridgway to 49 murders in Washington and Oregon thought to be committed by the Green River Killer.

Ridgway’s trial is scheduled to begin in March 2004.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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