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Towns considering a court system merger

Saturday, May 03, 2014 - Updated: 4:08 AM


For The Recorder

PALATINE BRIDGE -- Several upcounty towns are considering the merger of their court systems.

The Palatine town board recently passed a resolution supporting a feasibility study aimed at finding out whether numerous local municipalities could merge their court systems and construct a brand new court co-location.

Supervisor Sara Niccoli said earlier this month, a meeting in Fonda was attended by representatives of the towns of Minden, Palatine, Canajoharie and St. Johnsville. Each town's supervisor, a councilman, a justice and court clerk attended the meeting.

The town of Palatine had two councilmen present, constituting an illegal meeting under the state's Open Meetings Law.

Niccoli said, "One point I just want to bring up is, in that meeting we actually had one supervisor and two council members, which is technically illegal." She said that as facilitator of the meeting, she "felt very uncomfortable asking one person to leave in front of everybody."

"I just want to make sure we're clear that we need to follow the law," she said.

The meeting was held to discuss the possibility of the four towns merging their court systems and operating out of one, currently undesignated site.

First, a feasibility study must be conducted. If all four towns respectively agree to opt into the study, at an approximate cost of $6,000 a piece, it's possible they will receive back 90 percent of the study's cost from the state if they move forward with construction.

"It provides incentive to not only do a feasibility study, but to move forward with it," said Niccoli.

Niccoli said the idea has strong support from the county legislators, county Executive Matt Ossenfort, "and there's definitely strong support from the governor. They have a lot of incentive to make this work."

But, Niccoli said all four towns might not be on board.

"In general, there was more hesitation from the Canajoharie side of things than everybody else. Everybody else seems relatively interested, but had questions," Niccoli said.

At least two towns need to be interested to conduct a feasibility study.

If the project enters the construction phase, 90 percent of that cost could also be covered by the state, with ten percent covered by the towns involved.

Niccoli mentioned that the possibility exists for the county or state to cover some of the additional cost.

Niccoli recommended against promising any dollar figure, rather "we'll say that in theory, we support the notion of moving into a feasibility study," with a note that with Palatine working "on a very tight budget," and that the board would like to see what state and county funding is available before committing themselves to the consolidation.


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