The King County Department of Public Defense eliminated the $25 fee for its services after finding that few of its clients could afford to pay.
Since 1991, the Department of Public Defense has helped people who cannot afford an attorney, but it charged a nominal fee. The fee started at $5, but in 2008 the King County Council raised the fee to $25.
Fewer than half the defendants paid the fee. In 2011, the county billed 6,000 people, but only 36 percent paid. In 2012, the county billed 6,400 people, but only 23 percent paid.
It was an insignificant revenue stream for the county’s $4.5 billion budget. If everyone paid the fee, the county would have collected $161,000 in 2012.
“It’s a drop in the bucket in King County’s budget,” said Leslie Brown, spokesperson for the Office of Public Defense. “Yet the impact to these defendants is not insignificant.”
The King County Council passed the change Nov. 4 and adjusted its 2014 budget for the lost revenue. The 2014 budget passed the council Nov. 12.
The budget included the first additional funding for human services since before the 2008 recession.
The budget increased spending for youth and young adult homeless services by almost $1 million. The county funded education, employment and stability programs for youth. The funding also includes $260,000 for four young adult shelters run by YouthCare, Friends of Youth, Auburn Youth Resources and ROOTS.
YouthCare’s shelter at the Orion Center is the only downtown shelter for young adults, and it lost its private funding this year. The program needed $250,000 to operate five days a week and received $120,000 from the county.
Mike Heinisch, co-chair of the King County Human Services Alliance, said while the budget was a good step, the county still needs a reliable revenue stream for human services.
“On the one hand it looks positive, on the other hand we’ve got a long way to go,” Heinisch said.