A consolidation of the town and village courts is coming to Rhinebeck.
The merger was approved on Sept. 21 by the village trustees, though it will not take effect until March 31, 2021, when the current village justice’s term ends.
The decision followed a presentation of feasibility findings shared by The Laberge Group, a planning, engineering and architecture firm that specializes in government operations. The study was paid for by a Dutchess County Municipal Consolidation and Shared Services Grant.
Both relatively small operations, the courts are located across the street from each other and served by the same justices. Under state law, the town is required to have a local justice court, while the village is not.
“We all value and appreciate the service provided by our Courts and Court officials, and the study concludes that these changes will benefit them, as well as the public,” wrote Village Mayor Gary Bassett in an email to residents. “Under the new plan, Judge [John] Kane and Judge [William] Sanchez will still have gavels in hand as they continue to serve our community.”
The position of village justice, currently held by Kane, will be abolished. Kane also serves as a town judge and spoke in favor of the change at the town meeting.
Both municipalities expect to see numerous benefits from consolidating.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Elizabeth Spinzia, Town Supervisor, before the Town Council unanimously voted in favor of the consolidation Sept. 14. “It helps our taxpayers. The Village and Town of Rhinebeck work really closely together and what we’ve found is that this is a no-brainer. Not only does it save money, it delivers a better product.”
Spinzia said the current system is not effective, particularly because the town court’s office is not open full time.
The consolidation will allow for full-time office hours at one location, as well as a streamlining of court sessions and operating efficiencies. The process will also free up municipal space for other uses.
Most importantly, there will be substantial savings. The Village will save more than $45,000. Though the town’s expenses will increase, efficiency and savings show that taxpayers would be spending $26,000 less annually than the current combined cost.
More accessibility, better security and continuity of jobs are other pluses highlighted in the study. The possibility of facility improvements may also be explored through grant funding.