Shared Court Proposed to Cut Costs
Mayor has proposed shared service with Somerville in anticipation of 9 percent savings.
Bridgewater Township is preparing a possible shared service with Somerville Borough for court services, with the expectation that the joint venture will save township residents 9 percent in costs.
Mayor Dan Hayes presented the proposal to the Bridgewater Township Council Monday, with the expectation that they will have the opportunity to vote on a resolution at an upcoming meeting.
"This service is driven by the Bridgewater administration's goals and principles," he said. "The vision is to continue the quality of life in Bridgewater to which other communities aspire. This program is based completely on being resourceful and forward thinking."
The expectation of the shared service, Hayes said, is that there would be $73,000 in savings to taxpayers, $47,000 to Bridgewater residents alone.
"There will be no reduction in services to Bridgewater," he said. "And there will be no change in municipality control [for services] in Somerville."
Basically, Hayes said, both municipalities will maintain their separate court entities, but will share support of resources, and that's where the taxpayers will save money.
The two will be operating a shared court, with each managing their own systems with their own judges, prosecutors and other court personnel, Hayes said. But all the court work will be done in the Bridgewater municipal complex.
"We are a larger court, and Somerville is about one-third the size," he said. "We will share facilities and personnel, and increase the service of the resources, namely the courtroom."
Currently, the cost of Bridgewater's court in 2012 is $534,000. By adding Somerville to the mix, the court costs will increase to $698,498, with Somerville paying $212,066.
That reduces Bridgewater's costs to $47,568, a reduction of 9 percent.
"When we annually struggle to stay in a 2 percent cap, 9 percent is a sizeable reduction," Hayes said.
Bridgewater, Hayes said, currently holds municipal court every Wednesday, and the first and third Tuesday of each month. There are a total of 72 sessions, about, each year.
Hayes said Somerville will be holding court on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, and expects to hold 24 sessions.
"We will be utilizing a facility that lays idle for us," he said. "The Bridgewater location is a secure setting for all court-related functions."
And, Hayes said, Somerville will pay all services related to their court actions, enabling Bridgewater to reduce its costs.
In terms of the shared service, the two towns will share a court administrator, as well as court personnel to allow for all employees to handle transactions.
Hayes said Bridgewater residents will not be affected at all by the changes, they will just see an overall reduction in the costs.
"Somerville will see a reduction in the cost of court, but will maintain control of its court through the control of the people it has now, like the judge and prosecutor," he said. "For Bridgewater, there is no change at all, and residents will be unaffected."
Hayes said there is also adequate space by using the municipal courtroom, because the building is currently three times as big as the space that is actually needed.
"And the sessions are not overlapping, so there should be no complaints about traffic on court dates when we have sessions," he said. "There is nothing to believe we will have any issues on days when the smaller court is in session."
Council president Allen Kurdyla asked whether it will be Bridgewater or Somerville police manning the courts on the days when Somerville is in session.
Hayes said it will always be Bridgewater police, but the costs of paying them overtime for the work done for Somerville court has been figured in to the costs Somerville will be paying.
"They are providing support services, so it will be Bridgewater police in our building," he said. "That has been estimated, and all of the costs are in the payments I described."
And as for Bridgewater staff picking up additional work through the court administration, Hayes said the costs of picking up additional staff will be paid by Somerville.
"They are full overhead payments, and any costs of those are in the estimate for Somerville," he said.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso also asked whether there is some coverage for the township in terms of wear and tear on the building.
"With more people coming in, there is more use of chairs and the parking lot," he said. "Is this calculated into running the court? The more something is used, the quicker it has to be replaced."
Hayes said they will see what happens as that becomes a problem.
As for the success of the program, Hayes said they will continue to look at court efficiency, comments from both the Bridgewater and Somerville judges and others to determine whether to keep it moving forward.
Hayes said the next requirement is to have the Bridgewater council and the Somerville council approve resolutions concerning the shared service. For Bridgewater, that is expected at the Dec. 3 meeting.
"I think this is the kind of shared service that people are asking us to propose as lawmakers," he said. "There is no change to our services, but an improvement to theirs and a cost reduction. I think we're seeing many proposals like this, and I hope we can bring more to the table."