In March, the residents of the Village of Liberty will vote on whether they want to dissolve the village court and let the cases and court functions be absorbed by the Town of Liberty court. Members of the town board have indicated that they are not so enthusiastic about that possibility, but if the voters vote to dissolve, the town won’t have any choice.
Three members of the village board want the court to be dissolved because it runs a deficit somewhere above $28,000 per year.
The matter got county lawmaker Jodi Goodman thinking about the overall county court system, and whether its efficiency could be approved. At a meeting at the government center on January 13, she told her fellow lawmakers that the county should look into the formation of a central court system. She said it takes an awful lot of county manpower to transport inmates to far-flung courts in such places as Tusten and Roscoe, and it might save a lot of money to have a centralized system.
She stressed that she was not talking about laying off any court employees, instead she was simply interested in finding out if greater efficiencies were possible.
Lawmaker Leni Binder reminded her colleagues that when they considered consolidating courts, police and tax collection in the past, residents came from the towns bearing “tar and feathers.” The opposition to consolidation was “really vicious,” she said.
The research into those options was done in the late ’90s, but Goodman said that now officials are dealing with the continuing stifling recession, which has significantly altered the economic and political landscape, and that things that were once impossible might be possible now.
County chair Jonathan Rouis noted that unlike in the past, most towns and municipalities now make some positive revenue from the justice courts because of the collection of traffic ticket fines and would be unlikely to want to give that up.
He also said, “There are 20 justice courts and 40 judges that are all elected,” in the town and village courts, who might object to changes.
Lawmaker Woody Wood said, “Maybe it’s something we can do and maybe not. But we should look at it because Governor Andrew Cuomo’s speech stressed consolidation; he said that we should think outside the box because things are different now.”
Ira Cohen, the county treasurer, said, “The economic times have changed but what hasn’t changed, it seems to me, is the willingness of local towns and villages to lose their local representatives. My understanding of the process is that we would have to pass a county law that would be subject to referendum in the towns. Everybody would have to approve it and that’s where the problem comes in.”
County staff will look into the court consolidation question.