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Shared Court Proposed to Cut Costs

Mayor has proposed shared service with Somerville in anticipation of 9 percent savings.

Bridgewater Township is preparing a possible shared service with Somerville Borough for court services, with the expectation that the joint venture will save township residents 9 percent in costs.

Mayor Dan Hayes presented the proposal to the Bridgewater Township Council Monday, with the expectation that they will have the opportunity to vote on a resolution at an upcoming meeting.

"This service is driven by the Bridgewater administration's goals and principles," he said. "The vision is to continue the quality of life in Bridgewater to which other communities aspire. This program is based completely on being resourceful and forward thinking."

The expectation of the shared service, Hayes said, is that there would be $73,000 in savings to taxpayers, $47,000 to Bridgewater residents alone.

"There will be no reduction in services to Bridgewater," he said. "And there will be no change in municipality control [for services] in Somerville."

Basically, Hayes said, both municipalities will maintain their separate court entities, but will share support of resources, and that's where the taxpayers will save money.

The two will be operating a shared court, with each managing their own systems with their own judges, prosecutors and other court personnel, Hayes said. But all the court work will be done in the Bridgewater municipal complex.

"We are a larger court, and Somerville is about one-third the size," he said. "We will share facilities and personnel, and increase the service of the resources, namely the courtroom."

Currently, the cost of Bridgewater's court in 2012 is $534,000. By adding Somerville to the mix, the court costs will increase to $698,498, with Somerville paying $212,066.

That reduces Bridgewater's costs to $47,568, a reduction of 9 percent.

"When we annually struggle to stay in a 2 percent cap, 9 percent is a sizeable reduction," Hayes said.

Bridgewater, Hayes said, currently holds municipal court every Wednesday, and the first and third Tuesday of each month. There are a total of 72 sessions, about, each year.

Hayes said Somerville will be holding court on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, and expects to hold 24 sessions.

"We will be utilizing a facility that lays idle for us," he said. "The Bridgewater location is a secure setting for all court-related functions."

And, Hayes said, Somerville will pay all services related to their court actions, enabling Bridgewater to reduce its costs.

In terms of the shared service, the two towns will share a court administrator, as well as court personnel to allow for all employees to handle transactions.

Hayes said Bridgewater residents will not be affected at all by the changes, they will just see an overall reduction in the costs.

"Somerville will see a reduction in the cost of court, but will maintain control of its court through the control of the people it has now, like the judge and prosecutor," he said. "For Bridgewater, there is no change at all, and residents will be unaffected."

Hayes said there is also adequate space by using the municipal courtroom, because the building is currently three times as big as the space that is actually needed.

"And the sessions are not overlapping, so there should be no complaints about traffic on court dates when we have sessions," he said. "There is nothing to believe we will have any issues on days when the smaller court is in session."

Council president Allen Kurdyla asked whether it will be Bridgewater or Somerville police manning the courts on the days when Somerville is in session.

Hayes said it will always be Bridgewater police, but the costs of paying them overtime for the work done for Somerville court has been figured in to the costs Somerville will be paying.

"They are providing support services, so it will be Bridgewater police in our building," he said. "That has been estimated, and all of the costs are in the payments I described."

And as for Bridgewater staff picking up additional work through the court administration, Hayes said the costs of picking up additional staff will be paid by Somerville.

"They are full overhead payments, and any costs of those are in the estimate for Somerville," he said.

Councilman Filipe Pedroso also asked whether there is some coverage for the township in terms of wear and tear on the building.

"With more people coming in, there is more use of chairs and the parking lot," he said. "Is this calculated into running the court? The more something is used, the quicker it has to be replaced."

Hayes said they will see what happens as that becomes a problem.

As for the success of the program, Hayes said they will continue to look at court efficiency, comments from both the Bridgewater and Somerville judges and others to determine whether to keep it moving forward.

Hayes said the next requirement is to have the Bridgewater council and the Somerville council approve resolutions concerning the shared service. For Bridgewater, that is expected at the Dec. 3 meeting.

"I think this is the kind of shared service that people are asking us to propose as lawmakers," he said. "There is no change to our services, but an improvement to theirs and a cost reduction. I think we're seeing many proposals like this, and I hope we can bring more to the table."

Barry November 22, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Democrat, Democrat, Democrat. Happy now? Without bringing up a lot of previous issues - I would like to focus on this singular issue. It makes a lot of sense to make this happen. Any Council person who does not approve of this in the next Council session would be foolish. We complain about money - here is an opportunity to save some money and to get more use from a building that needs to be used. The complaint about wear and tear is silly. Why did we build this building if it was not intended to be used???
Evan Lerner November 25, 2012 at 04:10 PM
@BradleyBoy--Good to see the conversation shifting back to the subject of the article: sharing court costs to save money. Shared services is a great concept if it results in savings without a reduction in services or if it provides benefits at a real savings compared with the costs that would be incurred if the parties acted alone. I think this clearly falls into the category of "good" for the townships involved and encourage the mayor and council to continue looking for like opportunities.
stewart resmer November 25, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Governor Christie has been advocating for shared service agreements for townhsips near where he lives. He tells a funny example of how because of the shape of the boundaries you can almost see and hear sirens from other townships police fire and ambulances but he cannot count on those townships to come to his location and so his emergency help is further away. In councilman matthew moench's example he has voted NO for such agreements in the past and can be counted on to vote along the ideological Tea Party line, thereby continuing to threaten the public safety of all parties involved in order to curry favor with the extreme right wing of the 'Party of Stupid'. Stupid Is As Stupid Does cannot be more aptly applied than matthew moenches NO votes on shared services that fly in the face of the prerogatives of a sitting GOP governor and the signal of the dem legislature to sign on to the concept that threatens to sanction penalize townships that do not get on board.
Donkey Tales November 26, 2012 at 04:47 PM
If Democrats are not the party of stupid and they borrow trillions every year to fix the problems or the poor, homeless and uneducated, then why do we still have poor, homeless and uneducated eh Stew? Is it because Democrats are really the party of borrow and spend stupidity? Look at the waste in our cities and Abbott districts for your proof of what failure looks like.
stewart resmer November 27, 2012 at 01:15 PM
uhm? Because guys like 'The Party Of Stupid' candidates like Mitt the twit, and Lyin Paul Ryan, Cantor and Norquist, Boehner and McConnell aka Thelma and Louise, party of no, have declared economic war on the middle class blocking jobs bills, while at the same time giving unprecedented tax breaks during war time to the uber wealthy ?

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