As the Village of Sag Harbor moves closer to establishing its own justice court, this week the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees unveiled a draft budget for the court, and after matching those figures with projected revenues, said it should break even at the very least, and may even make the village close to $8,000 in additional revenues.
During its Tuesday, March 9 meeting, the draft budget was unveiled by trustee Tim Culver, who researched the cost of creating and operating a justice court in Sag Harbor by looking to villages who already run their own justice courts, including Southampton Village, Quogue and Westhampton Beach.
Culver’s draft estimates the village will need to spend $125,600 annually in contractual expenses, which includes the cost of a village justice, as well as an associate justice, a clerk and court officers, as well as equipment, software, stenographer services and the time of the village attorney. The judge, an elected position, is slated to receive a $25,000 salary, with an associate justice, who would take the bench should the elected justice be unavailable, expected to earn just $10,000 annually. In addition to these contractual expenses security and medical staff are also budgeted at $5,050 annually, translating into an overall $71,050 staffing budget – a majority of the total justice court budget.
According to estimates compiled by Culver, based on the last three years of justice court revenues from Southampton and East Hampton town courts, which currently handle Sag Harbor cases, the village can expect $118,303 in revenues. Coupled with the estimated $15,000 a year the village will need to expend to send police to Southampton Town’s Hampton Bays justice court, he predicts the village could see an annual income of $7,703 with the creation of Sag Harbor’s own court. Culver added those figures do not include the monies Sag Harbor contracts with the towns to handle their caseload.
“I think some of the figures are on the high side and I think we highballed it on purpose to be overly cautious,” said trustee Tiffany Scarlato.
Culver noted the cost of implementing a justice court is minimal as the village can use the existing board room and offices for the court.
“If we do this and after a year we think it isn’t working out, it will be easy to pack it up,” he said. “We don’t’ have a lot of fixed costs.”
The village is in the first steps of creating the court, currently hosting an ongoing public hearing on the creation of the village justice position, which village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. said would likely be appointed at first, and at the next available village election would become an elected seat.
As at last month’s hearing, former village trustee Marshall Garypie decried the village’s efforts, questioning the cost of the court and the expansion of village government during such tough fiscal times. Garypie continued by asking the board to put the issue in the hands of village taxpayers via a vote.
While at last month’s meeting board members said they believed a village vote on the justice court would have to be set up via a permissive referendum – where a petition signed by residents would demand a ballot line for the justice court creation – this month, Thiele said the village could put the issue up for vote. However, he said it is unusual for municipalities to elect to hold a vote on a matter normally left to permissive referendum.
Garypie argued once the court was created, positions would likely be expanded over the years and more costly to village residents, citing the growth of Southampton Town positions in their own court.
Mayor Brian Gilbride countered that the court could, and would, remain small and noted the village currently fights to receive revenues from the towns. He added the court would likely operate twice a month during high season and once a month the rest of the year. It would handle traffic tickets, code and zoning violations and non-felony offenses.
After Garypie left the podium, and quickly exited the room, Trustee Scarlato added the court could also hear civil cases under $3,000 and landlord tenant disputes. The hearing remains open.
In other news, Sag Harbor Community Rowing had its license to operate at Cove Park in Redwood extend by the board of trustees, although its hopes for a modular dock on the site were dashed.
“I think you have done a good job showing support for the rowing club,” said Culver, adding the board is concerned with allowing the construction of a dock on public parkland. With the growth of the club, added board members, trustees may consider that application in the future.
“We want to encourage that this is accessible to the public in general,” said trustee Robby Stein of Cove Park.
Also on the waterfront, the village is considering setting up kayak racks at Havens Beach and other waterfront locales in Sag Harbor in order to boost revenues to the village’s harbors and docks, which could be looking at a $50,000 deficit in expected revenues for this fiscal year. Culver and Harbor Master Bob Bori are expected to present the board with a fleshed out concept in coming months. Gilbride added the board will also explore what the village charges for resident and non-resident slips.
The board also agreed to send letters to the New York State Liquor Authority regarding requests for liquor licenses at 16 and 62 Main Street, the site of the darkened JLX Bistro and Grappa Restaurant. Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano said in addition to both sites being in the midst of investigation by the SLA for violations, both spaces are also embroiled in legal battles over who has the right to operate there.