By Matthew Reitz
Town officials in Hannibal and Granby are mulling a court merger that could potentially save each town money on justices and other costs associated with the judicial system.
Hannibal Town Board Member Gary Thompson, who proposed the measure last week after months of research, said the merger could cut court spending in half. Thompson said he is “vigorously looking for ways to cut costs,” and after attending training over the summer, he thought a court merger could be a viable option. After receiving positive feedback from local officials on the town, county, and state level, Thompson said he ramped up his efforts.
Thompson said the proposed merger was a “plan of a different kind” that could help both towns save money, and could even reduce expenses for the county government by consolidating inmate transportation costs and DA court dates. He noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently promised funding for municipalities that consolidate services, as well.
“This move will not just save money for Hannibal, our neighbors in Granby will save money and it doesn’t stop there,” Thompson said. “It will save the county money, as well.”
The “best part” of the proposal is that it would go to public referendum in November, leaving the voters of Hannibal and Granby to decide, according to Thompson.
“I think giving the people a chance to vote on cost-saving ideas is the best thing for the people,” he said.
Consolidating the courts makes sense, Thompson said. Combined, Hannibal and Granby have four judges and two clerks who serve a combined population of just over 12,000 people. The six elected and appointed positions are a waste of taxpayer money and a duplication of services, according to Thompson. He said the idea will also “streamline efficiency for all involved.”
Under the proposed plan, the number of justices would be reduced to two, and both towns would be served by a single court clerk. Not only will the plan cut back on salaries, but also pensions, training, and contractual spending, Thompson said. Each town would have its own judge, but would split the cost of the clerk’s salary, according to Thompson.
Hannibal and Granby would each continue to keep revenue from fines and forfeitures separate, Thompson said.
Town Justice Jack Beckwith said, to his understanding, a study would have to be carried out by an “unbiased accounting firm” to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Beckwith said a formal analysis has to be performed so voters are educated before a referendum is conducted.
Thompson, however, said the towns didn’t need a formal independent audit on the financial implications, but said he is working on determining exact figures on the savings.
Granby Town Supervisor Ed Williamson said he’s been in contact with Thompson, and he’s interested in the proposal and how it could save the Granby taxpayers money. Williamson said any measure that can save Granby taxpayers money is worth exploring.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Williamson said.
Williamson said he can’t speak for the Granby town board, which would have to authorize the plan, but he will be presenting the proposal to the board at an upcoming workshop.
The proposed merger mirrors a measure adopted in 2003 by the towns of Shelby and Ridgeway, located in Orleans County. Thompson said he had spoken with local officials in those towns, and they said the consolidation has been successful.
A public hearing regarding the merger will be held at the February 18 Hannibal town board meeting.