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  • Mamaroneck Observer

A First Look at Dissolving the Village Court

By Kathy Savolt -


In an apparent move to lower Village property taxes, earlier this year Mayor Tom Murphy proposed dissolving the Village Court. By New York State law, the Towns of Mamaroneck and Rye are obligated to incorporate the Village Court cases into their court systems if the Village does not provide its own Court.


The Village of Port Chester eliminated their court starting in 2020 and Mayor Murphy thought it a good idea for the Village of Mamaroneck.


The Board of Trustees (BOT) agreed to ask the Budget Advisory Committee (the “Committee”) to investigate the financial benefits of such a move and the Mayor requested they conduct a study in an email dated March 16, 2023.


At the June 26th BOT Work Session, the Committee presented their report. See HERE. Also included is a memo from Judges Derrico and Gallagher giving their “on the ground” perspectives.


Presented by member Len Aubrey, the Committee did not reach a conclusion and recommended that the BOT not take any action without further analyses and discussion with all who would be affected by the change. The Committee’s report details their process, findings, and concerns.


Port Chester

The Committee spoke with the Treasurer of the Village of Port Chester (PC) and reviewed their consultant’s report. The Treasurer provided the numbers that supported the decision but said the Town of Rye was “shell shocked” by the transition. They saved $734,000 in expenses; 1.6% of their total appropriations. However, the Treasurer reported that PC lost 35% of its court revenue – from $1.4 million down to $910,000. Furthermore, their allowable tax cap was reduced by the State Comptroller’s Office to reflect their reduction in expenditures. This means the bar to stay under the tax cap is even more challenging.


Port Chester lies completely within the Town of Rye and shares a municipal building with the Town. Therefore, they did not have any concerns about ease of access for residents, additional time needed for police officers or other staff for court appearances, or transport of prisoners for arraignment.


The 2021 PC consultant report referenced two other Westchester villages who had explored the same option – Tuckahoe and Ossining. Members of the Committee reached out to the key personnel from both villages.


Tuckahoe

Located in the town of Eastchester, Tuckahoe analyzed eliminating their court but did not do so. The Committee reports that Steve Eckland, the mayor at the time cited that the reason was the village court employees and judges were from the community and had important relationships there. The demographics of Tuckahoe are different from those of Eastchester (which includes Bronxville) with a higher percentage of minority residents.


Ossining

Located within the Town of Ossining, the Village did eliminate their court ten years ago. The Town and Village of Ossining also share facilities. Bill Hanauer, the former mayor who led the effort, reported that the Town Court had a very different approach to minority residents than the Village (41% of the Village population is Hispanic). He said the financial impact “was a wash” because Town taxes went up and the Village agreed to take over the Town’s small police department at the same time. Aubrey reported that Hanauer told him Village residents felt betrayed and that he regretted the consolidation.


Later in the meeting, Murphy questioned whether the Committee had spoken to former Ossining mayor Victoria Geraghty, who served after Hanauer. The Committee had not and apparently Murphy immediately texted Geraghty who replied. Murphy reported that she texted him that “it saves a lot of money.” Trustee Lucas said she had also spoken to Geraghty “a while ago” and reported that “Geraghty said she regretted what they did and would reverse it if she could.”


The Village of Mamaroneck is Different

The major difference is that the Village of Mamaroneck is in two towns – the Town of Mamaroneck (TOM) and Town of Rye (TOR). The Village does not share facilities with either town. Figuring out which town court to go to could cause confusion for staff and residents who would have to appear. Other difficulties include transportation and increased overtime for staff including police officers. Demographics also play a role in the decision.


For fiscal year 2022 the Committee reported court revenue of $632,616 and expenses of just under $500,000 resulting in a net benefit to the taxpayer of approximately $132,000.


Committee Recommendations

Further analysis and discussions to include:

· Experience and circumstances of other villages and towns

· Impact on VOM Police Dept, Building Dept, and Clerk-Treasurer's office

· Input from Village Justices, and TOM and TOR elected officials

· Impact on VOM residents

· Reduction of VOM tax cap and TOM and TOR tax increases

· Impact on VOM court expenses and revenue

· Legal issues


In a brief discussion afterward, Murphy asked if the Committee considered the Village as a “satellite court?” Aubrey noted that would be a decision for the BOT and when asked if they had contacted town officials, he replied that “this BOT should initiate that.”


Aubrey asked if the BOT had any future direction for the Committee. Murphy replied that they have to “allow it to germinate.” He called the report “an interesting read.” Murphy agreed that further analyses are needed.


Editor’s Note: Mr. Aubrey is married to the author of this article. He did not participate in this reporting other than to supply the correct spelling of names.




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