The conversation about whether to eventually dissolve the Lancaster Village Court was intense again Monday but raised more questions than it seemed to answer.
Trustee Russell Sugg, who supports abolishing the court to save taxpayers money and end what he contends is a duplicated service that is provided by the Town Court, questioned specifics about Village Court operations.
Village officials learned that Village Court has shown consistent losses in each of the last five fiscal years, dating to 2008-09, with the largest totaling $33,962 occurring in 2012-13. For the past five years, losses have totaled an estimated $109,959 – but less than Sugg originally estimated.
Still, Sugg insisted the village could save at least $40,000 to $60,000 yearly, if not more, by dissolving its court and merging it into the town’s court, now housed in a new town office building on Pavement Road.
A year ago, the village budgeted $71,589 for expenses, while its revenues totaled $37,627. At the same time, ticket revenues are down, though police say it could be due to increased police presence in the village that is deterring people from disobeying traffic laws.
“The key is we don’t have to spend a dime. Why are we?” Sugg asked during a special board meeting on the issue. “It’s not a required service.”
As a whole, village trustees seemed wary of Sugg’s proposal, demanding more scrutiny.
They also have some time to figure it out. The decision doesn’t have to be made for another three years, when the term of Village Justice Paul Bumbalo expires.
Trustee Dawn Robinson said a dissolved Village Court could end up costing taxpayers more money in pushing village judicial matters to the town. Plus, she asked: “Is Town Court able to perform the same service without village residents losing their identity?”
Larger questions emerged, such as whether the Town Court, with two justices and four court clerks, could handle the Village Court’s caseload without increasing costs. It was also pointed out that town pay scales are higher than at the village level.
“We need to make sure we have the data to analyze this intelligently,” said Deputy Mayor Kenneth O’Brien III. He also said the Village Court is important to the quality of life that village residents have come to expect.
Others in village government also reminded one another that not all town/village mergers in the past have gone well, citing the Building Department merger as one example.
“Every time we try to do something with the town, it never works out,” Mayor Paul M. Maute said.
The village pays a hefty price tag still tied to the 2003 merger of the village and town police forces, forwarding $1 million each year to the town in sales tax revenues to support town police operations. Another 19 years remain in the 30-year agreement, plus village taxpayers also are taxed to help pay toward townwide police costs.
An interesting twist that emerged in the debate was news that towns, per state law, cannot have more than two justices serve in their court at one time, according to Village Attorney Arthur A. Herdzik.
Village Court employee Mike Murray was angry with Sugg for his dissolution idea. “Mr. Sugg, you’re way off track. We’re not dealing with just vehicle and traffic (issues). We’re dealing with drug addiction” in Village Court, Murray said. “Why overburden the town with that problem?”
“I’ll write you a $30,000 check to keep the (village) court system going,” Murray told Sugg. “You think you’re going to save money? No. You’re going to lose lives, as people get lost in the system.”
Sugg suggested voters be allowed to decide in a referendum. “I’m not trying to grandstand, but present ideas to save money,” he said. “Traffic tickets are down. These numbers don’t lie. We need to downsize.”
The board said it is committed to launching a detailed analysis of both court operations before making a decision. No new meeting date on the matter has been scheduled.