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Scotia, Glenville weigh merging of courts

Change could save money, improve service

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
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— Scotia and Glenville are looking seriously at consolidating their courts, a transition that wouldn’t take place until December, when Village Justice Jason Frament ends his four-year term.

Village and town officials say consolidation would increase the efficiency of their courts and save taxpayers money. They have been considering such action for at least two years, but state law requires governments to wait until a current justice finishes their term before abolishing a village court.

“This is the final year of our judge’s term, so when we looked at doing something, we knew it would have to be this year or another four years,” said Scotia Mayor Kris Kastberg.

Although the town and village have been reluctant partners on past consolidation proposals, Kastberg said he sees no downside to this one.

“I think it would be an improvement in service for people who actually use the court,” he said. “We have a single clerk, so when she is sick or on vacation, people will drive up and nobody will be there.”

The village employs three people in its court — an elected justice, an appointed, part-time acting justice and a court clerk. Court is held every Thursday at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the firehouse on Mohawk Avenue.

Every other week, “DA nights” are held with a Schenectady County assistant district attorney in attendance to prosecute, resolve or continue between 100 and 140 traffic and criminal cases. Other weeks, village ordinance and civil trials are held. Caseloads on these nights range from 30 to 85.

The town — which employs two elected justices and two court clerks — has a similar setup, though it holds court twice a week. Court is held every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the town municipal center on Glenridge Road. Tuesday nights are DA nights, and Thursday nights are for lighter matters such as traffic violations. On DA nights, the justice hears, resolves or continues anywhere from 80 to 100 cases. On non-DA nights, it ranges from 60 to 80 cases.

If the two courts consolidate, the village court would be abolished and the town court would absorb its caseload. Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said they are still unsure how they might staff a consolidated court, given the larger workload. He sat in on court Tuesday night to get a feel for the docket size and will be there again Thursday.

“The mayor and I met today to get the ball rolling on this idea,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a big undertaking, but we both believe it will be more efficient and cheaper for taxpayers. The next thing to do is to talk with the staff members who deal with these workloads on a daily basis to see how we might move going forward.”

In addition to hearing civil, criminal, misdemeanor and traffic cases, town and village justice courts hold arraignments and impose and collect a wide range of fines, surcharges and civil fees. To do this, they hold daytime hours for people to drop off payments. Between a growing caseload and having just one clerk to accept payments, said Kastberg, the village would benefit from the resources a larger court like Glenville’s would provide.

Over the years, Scotia and Glenville have consolidated services like the assessor’s office and animal control. Though not a formal consolidation, their public works and parks departments share equipment and services when needed.

In 2011, both municipalities looked at consolidating police departments — a process that would have abolished the Scotia Police Department and merged its operations with Glenville. That proposal was met with vocal opposition, though, and never came to fruition.

As the governor touts consolidation and shared services among municipalities, Koetzle admitted he thinks consolidation isn’t always the smartest option. The village and town will consider it only when it would save money and preserve services, he added.

Kastberg shared similar sentiments and said residents balked at consolidating police departments not because they were against all consolidation but because the village’s police officers were such a visible part of everyday life for residents.

“There is definitely the desire for Scotia to maintain its identity,” he said, “and we’re identified by the services we provide. But I don’t think you’ll see opposition with the court issue because the clientele for our court services isn’t a lot of our residents, and it isn’t a service that people see every day.”

The village Board of Trustees will introduce the proposal at its February meeting.

 
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