Five Morris County
By Linda K. Murphy
New Jersey Shared Services Association
(NJSSA) Vice President and Morris
County Shared Services Coordinator
Five Morris County municipalities announced at the end of 2008 that they will merge their municipal courts into a regional joint court based in the Town of Dover. The new regional court, which began on February 1, 2009, will handle cases from Dover, Mine Hill, Wharton, Mt. Arlington, and Rockaway Borough and will save an estimated $2.65 million over the life of a 10-year shared services agreement.
Both Wharton Mayor William Chegwidden and Mine Hill Mayor Richard Leary are shared services “veterans.” Their communities share police services, a superintendent of schools, and a school business administrator, and they established their own shared court in January 2007. Both said they were pleased to take their municipal court to a new, broader solution that will give each of their towns an additional 25 percent cost savings. Savings for the five participating local governments range from approximately 20 percent to over 40 percent of 2009 budgeted municipal court costs.
From left to right: Mayors James Dodd (Dover), Kathyann Snyder (Rockaway), and William Chegwidden (Wharton) look on as their Municipal Clerks Marge Verga, Sheila Siefert, and Gabrielle Voight-Cherna sign and seal the joint court shared services agreement.
The Town of Dover will serve as the lead agency with the other four municipalities closing down their court operations and relocating to Dover. All five Mayors agreed that it was in the best interest of their communities to establish the Joint Municipal Court of Dover. “This is a classic, textbook example of how shared services can work. Our residents will benefit from a significant cost savings, without any compromise to service,” said Rockaway Borough Mayor Kathyann Snyder.
The new joint court will have two judges, two prosecutors, and two public defenders rather than the 15 professionals used by the municipalities in their separate courts. All full time court administration personnel will be incorporated into the new joint court, but part-time workers in three of the participating towns will be laid off. The combined total of criminal cases processed by the four municipalities being merged into the Joint Municipal Court is roughly half that of Dover alone, and the combined traffic cases are approximately equal to Dover’s current case load. Current plans call for one additional court day per week to handle the combined case volume.
“To have this number of towns sharing a Joint Municipal Court is a first in the history of Morris County. The result will be real cost savings to taxpayers and a lower cost per court session for all participating municipalities. In addition, Mine Hill eliminates the need to make up to $500,000 in capital improvements to its court facility which it currently shares with Wharton. Incremental costs to Dover will be covered by annual payments from the four supported municipalities under a ten-year shared services agreement,” said Dover Mayor James Dodd. In addition, he said an expansion and upgrade of the court will be done by Dover which hopes to get a shared services grant from the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to help pay for the work.
“This is not the first time towns have merged services, but it is one of the larger-scale efforts in recent years,” said William Dressel, Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities. “A lot of towns and people statewide will be watching this effort to see if it could be a model for them.” He also praised the participants for having the patience and political endurance to work out the joint court agreement, saying this type of merged service can be politically difficult to engineer.
Mount Arlington Mayor Arthur Ondish said the process was not always smooth and required many hours of discussion by municipal officials. Mayor Dodd also acknowledged that the months-long process encountered some “bumps” along the way. He said “It was important for all of us to keep the desired end result in mind. We had to work through organizational, operational, financial, and political issues and concerns. But through creative thinking and compromise, we were able to reach an agreement that satisfies all the participants.”
The efforts to create a five-town joint court have been supported by the advisory services of Morris County Shared Services Coordinator, Linda Murphy; the counsel and guidance of Judge B. Theodore Bozonelis, Assignment Judge Superior Court, and members of his staff; and assistance from various state departments such as the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the Department of Personnel (DOP), and the Judiciary’s Municipal Court Services. “It’s really great to see such a collaborative effort on the part of the state, the county, the court, mayors, administrators, and council members, all working together to provide better service to the community at a reduced cost to the taxpayer,“ said Mine Hill Mayor Richard Leary.
From right to left: Mayors Arthur Ondish (Mt. Arlington) and Richard Leary (Mine Hill) watch as their Municipal Clerks Linda DiSantis and Patricia Korpos finalize the 10-year joint court agreement.
While other New Jersey communities are struggling with state aid cuts, these five municipalities started looking for potential solutions. Their taxpayers are the winners with improved service levels and lower costs. Mayor Art Ondish said, “I am so pleased that this effort worked out for us because it is a golden opportunity to use shared services to help save our taxpayers money. While it is unfortunate that our municipalities have to deal with the economic situation we are currently in, it is important for us all to move ahead with the times. I would like to thank everyone, especially Mayor Dodd and our Shared Service Coordinator Linda Murphy, for working so diligently to make this happen.”
“This is an example of hard work and perseverance on the part of the respective governing bodies, putting the residents first and getting things done regardless of political affiliation. We continue to work to make local government more efficient and streamlined and are often used as an example for the rest of the state,” said Wharton Mayor and Freeholder William Chegwidden.
If you would like more information about the Joint Municipal Court of Dover, please contact Linda K. Murphy, Morris County Shared Services Coordinator at (973) 285-6042 or email@example.com.
This article was originally published in New Jersey Municipalities magazine. Vol. 86, No. 4, April 2009