Pascack Valley Towns
Create a Joint Court
By John M. Kane, Jr.
Councilman, Park Ridge
Three Bergen County municipalities located in the Pascack Valley have merged their individual municipal courts into a new joint court based in Montvale. This joint court will handle a combined 6,000 cases from the boroughs of Montvale, Park Ridge and Woodcliff and is projected to save the participants 46 percent of 2009 expenditures—a total of $260,000 annually.
The new Pascack Joint Municipal Court officially opened for business in April 2011 with a well attended ribbon-cutting ceremony. State Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-39), Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk (R-39), Assemblyman Robert Schroeder (R-39), Freeholder Robert Hermanson, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, and Presiding Municipal Court Judge Roy F. McGeady joined elected and appointed officials from the three boroughs to celebrate the first joint municipal court in Bergen County.
These Pascack Valley communities, known as the Tri-Boro, have a long history of working closely together. They cooperatively support the long-standing Tri-Boro Ambulance Corps, use Tri-Boro dispatch for emergency communications, and most recently collaborated on a shared National Night Out.
In 2009, elected officials began to ponder yet another alliance that would serve the residents and help relieve pressure on their municipal budgets for years to come. Montvale’s Mayor Roger Fyfe first contacted Mayor Donald Ruschman of Park Ridge and Mayor Joseph LaPaglia of Woodcliff Lake in fall of 2009 to discuss the possibility of merging municipal courts. To support this effort further, he also successfully negotiated the award of a grant from Bergen County’s County Executive and Freeholders for a feasibility study.
After a competitive selection process, the municipalities agreed to hire Government Strategy Group (GSG) to perform the feasibility study for them. GSG Managing Director Linda K. Murphy directed the study and led a working team consisting of court administrators, borough administrators, and selected elected officials from the three boroughs in the collection and analysis of court-related financial and operational data. The feasibility study, completed in January 2010, established the viability of a combined municipal court and this recommendation was shared with the three governing bodies.
On April 2011 in Montvale, members of the Joint Court Advisory Committee from Park Ridge, Montvale and Woodcliff Lake; county and state officials; and appointed professionals gather for a Ribbon Cutting to celebrate the creation of the new Pascack Joint Municipal Court.
As part of the elected officials’ decision process, the three boroughs circulated the completed study to their respective judges, court administrators, and chiefs of police and encouraged feedback. The feedback was compiled with the assistance of GSG and addressed at a special public meeting. This enabled all stakeholders to have an open dialog about concerns and issues.
Once the decision to proceed was made, the boroughs formed a Joint Court Advisory Committee (JCAC) which consisted of the mayor, two council members, and the borough administrator from each municipality. The group met regularly to determine the structure of the new court and to draft a shared service agreement. These JCAC meetings were very productive and provided the necessary forum for members to discuss and compromise on agreement details while acting as liaisons to their respective councils.
The Pascack Joint Municipal Court is a great example of how our local governments must continue to work together to provide excellent services to our community while reducing expenses. I was honored to have taken an active part in this endeavor and want to recognize all of the members of the Joint Court Advisory Committee that were instrumental in its success. The committee members were (Montvale (M), Park Ridge (PR), Woodcliff Lake (WL)) Mayors Roger Fyfe (M) Joseph LaPaglia (WL), Don Ruschman (PR); Councilmembers Tim Lane (M), Salvatore Talarico (M), John Kane (PR), Mike Viola (PR), John Glaser (WL), Jeff Hoffman (WL); and Administrators Maureen Iarossi-Alwan (M), Helene Fall (PR).
The shared services agreement was adopted by two of the three communities in October 2010, and by the third in early 2011. The next step was the selection process for the professionals for the new Joint Court. In January 2011, the JCAC interviewed all the court professionals then serving the three boroughs. A prosecutor and public defender were selected for the joint court, and the joint committee chose a candidate judge to recommend for interim appointment by Assignment Judge Doyne. Formal appointment of the multi-jurisdictional joint court judge is pending and by statute will be done by the Governor with advice and consent of the Senate.
Personnel and Civil Service Considerations Under the shared services agreement, Montvale as the lead agency provides all court-related facilities, personnel and resources including court security. The new joint court has one judge, one prosecutor and one public defender rather than the nine court professionals employed by the municipalities in their separate courts. Court administration personnel were reduced from six employees to two and a half full time equivalents (FTE). Since one of the participating municipalities is a Civil Service entity, an employee reconciliation plan was completed and submitted to the Civil Service Commission for approval. In August 2010, Bergen County Assignment Judge Peter Doyne approved the new joint court concept and plans were made to close the Park Ridge and Woodcliff Lake courts.
Revenue Sharing While all revenues will be retained by the jurisdiction that generates a case, the Pascack Joint Municipal Court is set up to have all court costs shared by the three municipalities using a cost allocation formula based on a rolling three-year revenue history. The municipalities contribute to the cost of running the court in proportion to their use of the facilities. By using a three year retrospective average, any shifts in cost allocation are phased in gradually to mitigate impact on the individual budgets.
The Advisory Committee recently met for the first time since the Court opened, and learned that everything was running very well. The committee recognized the hard work of the court staff throughout this process and is extremely confident for the future success of the Pascack Joint Municipal Court.
Park Ridge Mayor Roger Fyfe agrees, “More than ever, alternative ways of providing services are an attractive option. Merging our municipal courts was something that just made sense. We are pleased to say this has been very positive for everyone—another Tri-Boro partnership that is a real success both fiscally and operationally. Truly the winners here are our residents, the taxpayers.” s
John M. Kane, Jr. was elected to the Park Ridge Borough Counsel in 2008 and is finishing his three year term. He was the Council President in 2010 and serves as a member of the Joint Court Advisory Committee.
First published in New Jersey
Municipalities, Volume 89, Number 1, January 2012