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January 10, 2013

Merging courts a good idea

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — The board of trustees has scheduled a public hearing on a local law that would merge or consolidate the village justice court with the town of Otsego court.

If the village board votes in favor of consolidation, the town has no choice but to take over the court.

The village court has two justices. Leslie Friedman is the village justice and Gary Kuch serves as the acting village justice. Friedman and Kuch are also the justices for the town of Otsego, which would help to make a smooth consolidation into one justice court covering the village and the town.

According to Mayor Jeff Katz, the move would offer the village budgetary relief roughly equal to a two percent tax increase. The village would retain the revenue it collects from parking tickets, but would lose $8,000 to $10,000 in other revenue. The budget for the village court would be greatly reduced and the village would realize a savings of approximately $35,000 annually.

Taxpayers in the village are already contributing to the operating cost of the town court system and that contribution would be likely to increase. The merger of the two courts would not reduce the case load for the justices and the loss of their village salary would need to be made up with an increased salary from the town.

Katz is also correct to point out, and Friedman agreed, that the town’s court facilities are much better than the village where often lawyers must conduct meetings with their clients in the hallway of the village municipal building.

If it approved, the consolidation would not take place until 2014 at the end of the current justice term.

It is being discussed now, Katz said, because the local law is subject to permissive referendum. If, within 30 days after adoption, a petition is presented with sufficient signatures, the question would be placed on the ballot. Katz said if that is the case, he would rather have the vote at the annual village election and not have to schedule a special election.

We believe the idea of court consolidation makes a great deal of sense for the village and hope the mayor and board of trustees move forward with the proposal.