Voters in the Village of Rhinebeck will not be going to the polls on Dec. 15 to decide whether to consolidate the village court and town court.
The referendum has been canceled to allow more time for public input.
“Since voting to move towards consolidating judicial operations with the Town of Rhinebeck, we have heard from many of you, and you’re right,” Village Mayor Gary Bassett said in a statement. “It is clear that we need to hear more, and continue engaging in the process with residents before taking a final vote.”
“I’m glad the village is revisiting the issue,” said Roger Quon, a village resident. “And I hope that in this next round they do it with very clearly stated and measurable goals.”
Earlier this year, Bassett told the Hudson Valley Observer that the merger would make local government more efficient.
“The town and village maintain parallel, duplicate court systems across the street from each other,” said Bassett. “It’s confusing. It doubles the cost for upgrades, safety and security.”
The judges of the two courts perform virtually identical functions.
“They conduct arraignments and proceedings, preside over court and render decisions under penal, vehicular, traffic, civil and other laws,” the village said on its website.
The village spends about $45,000 a year on its court, the town about $10,000 -$20,000 a year after revenue and expenses. If the courts were consolidated, the town’s cost would increase to about $26,000 a year.
However, Bassett said now is not the best time for a referendum for several reasons, including COVID-19.
“A special election would not only be expensive to Village taxpayers, it could put poll workers and voters at risk,” he said.
In 2019, a Dutchess County grant paid for a study by The Laberge Group, a government operations consulting firm. Laberge recommended Court consolidation.
Bassett now wants to form a joint Village/Town Judicial Task Force to review the proposals in the Laberge Group report.
“A series of public forums will allow residents to weigh in on the pros and cons of consolidating the courts,” he said.