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‘Day of Judgment’ looms for court

By Kathy Daley
LIBERTY — December 31, 2010 — In tough economic times, the last things some citizens think of paying are their speeding tickets and parking violation fines. Or so the Village of Liberty is discovering.
Village Court Clerk Lillian Rubio says her office has tried everything to get people to pay the fees and fines they have been levied, but the court has continued to come up short at least $25,000 each year for the past two years.
“We do bench warrants, we suspend licenses, we write letters, we make phone calls,” said Rubio. “I feel we are doing the best we can.”
This week, the Liberty Town Board will decide how best to bail out the village court from its problem of losing money. Village Mayor Richard Winters suggested last week that the town and village courts merge operations. His proposal would have the town pay the village $2,000 rent each month in exchange for moving the town basement courtroom across Main Street to larger quarters dedicated to the village court.
If the merger does not take place, the village court will be forced to close its doors. In that case, by legal statute the town must take over the village court operations anyhow.
“The way I look at it is that we can’t continue to have our hard-working village residents paying taxes to subsidize the shortage each year at the Court,” said Mayor Winters.
Plus, Winters, said “The village population makes up close to 50 percent of the town’s total population — why should village residents pay for two courts?”
Town Financial Director Earl Bertsch and Town Attorney Kenneth Klein are studying the financial and legal issues surrounding a possible merger as well as allowing the village to dissolve the court.
“Our question is: Are there any advantages to a merger?” said Bertsch.
The $24,000 a year rent to the village is a big concern, and there do not appear to be any substantial cost savings in a merger, Bertsch said.
On the other hand, should the village dissolve the court and the town take over, “some of the fines that went to the village would come to the town,” Bertsch noted. But, in that event, how much would the town have to spend each year in taking on the added work?
According to Court Clerk Rubio, the village handles some 500 cases each month. They range from vehicle and traffic violations to code violations to criminal cases that do not reach felony status.
Town Supervisor John Schmidt said some of the costs of a court takeover would include the need for increased office space and added staff — and dealing with the fact that the two courts are on different computer systems
At this point, the town is requesting more financial information from the village so that the town board can make an informed decision, said Supervisor Schmidt.

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