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Morris Twp. Dissolves Court, Plans Merger

Township could join court hosted by Madison as early as Jan. 1.

Morris Township took their first step toward dissolving their own court system and joining with Madison by passing a resolution at Wednesday night’s township committee meeting.

If all goes as planned, the Township would join up with Harding and both Chathams in the court hosted by Madison on Jan. 1.

Those four communities have enjoyed a shared court arrangement since February of 2011. At the time of that merge, Chatham Mayor Nelson Vaughan said that participation in the joint court system is going to cut the borough's current cost nearly in half. According to Morris Township Mayor Peter Mancuso, significant savings could also be seen for township residents.

“It is one of the most difficult decisions we’ve had to make,” Mancuso said. “But to me it comes down to three things.  First, we could be saving $150,000.  Second, it has the support of the police chief. And third, when we do this we have six months to get out of the deal. We sign a four-year agreement, but if we don’t like it we have six months to pull out.”

Committeeman Jeff Grayzel said his biggest concern was with the security in the court.

“Yes, there are financial incentives but I have a strong issue with the security of our court and the events at the Naval Yards in Washington, DC brought that to a head with me this week,” Grayzel said. “Moving the court to Madison will provide protection that we don’t have here now.”

Committeeman Daniel Caffrey abstained, saying there were too many variables in the cost savings for him to be comfortable voting.

“I am a firm believer in shared services. But we’re making a decision to outsource our court system and to layoff four employees based on a purely financial decision,” Caffrey said. “If they underestimate the expenses and there is no protection for Morris Township. Right now we are estimating a 35.5 percent share of the caseload. Say that creeps up to 42 percent. Morris Township’s savings could be $50,000. Would I want to layoff four people to save $50,000? Probably not. But the pro forma numbers are just that. I think without additional information the savings might not be what we think.” 

Committeeman Scott Rosenbush, participating via conference call, said that there was enough wiggle room with the numbers for the move to make sense.

“I agree with Dan that there is a degree of variability with the cost. But given the size of the savings, which is well in excess of six figures, we can have some variation and still come out ahead,” Rosenbush said.

Rosenbush also noted that the state is mandating certain security enhancements be made to the courts that the Township would be on the hook for, and Madison already possesses.

Committeeman Bruce Sisler was also concerned about hidden costs they hadn’t been made aware of yet, and said he took issue with the loss of local control.

“I am not comfortable with moving the administration and control to be one of five towns and one of five votes,” Sisler said.  

Sisler also abstained from voting.

The next step in the process, according to Administrator Timothy Quinn, will be for the other towns to pass similar resolutions at their next meeting and then the entire plan gets sent to the assignment judge for approval.

“It goes to Judge [Thomas] Weisenbeck for approval,” Quinn said. “And if he signs off on it we would start the new court arrangement Jan. 1.”


tigerknightsg September 18, 2013 at 11:33 PM
Was merging with Morristown an option?
Chris for Liberty September 19, 2013 at 05:12 AM
Instead of abstaining, why don't the Committeemen have the guts to vote no?
Walter O. September 19, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Should do a lot more than just this!
Brian O'Shea September 20, 2013 at 07:23 AM
Shame on Grayzel for his straw man argument about lax security; his concern was protecting hometown patronage jobs plain and simple.

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