GovernmentThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Croton Ponders Abolishing Justice Court for Cost Savings

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The Village of Croton-on-Hudson is looking at abolishing its village justice position and consolidating court services with the Town of Cortlandt as a cost-savings measure.

A public hearing was held Feb. 28 on the proposed measure that was first presented to the Croton Board of Trustees on Jan. 4 from Village Manager Bryan Healy as the village grapples with an estimated $1.6 million budget shortfall.

“The village has a significant financial burden ahead of them,” Healy told trustees during a recent work session. “This is just one more proposal to try and blunt a significant tax increase.”

The village court, which handles approximately 2,000 cases annually, was a $363,270 expense for the village during the current fiscal year. Revenue from the court plunged from $350,000 in 2021 to $170,000 this year, in large part, according to Healy, from less parking fines at the Croton-Harmon Train Station, which is still only at about 50% capacity from the COVID-19 pandemic.

If Cortlandt takes over the court responsibilities, Supervisor Dr. Richard Becker said the town would likely hire the village’s court clerks and prosecutor. Healy said Croton would still receive the revenue generated from parking tickets and other Village Code violations.

“We don’t really have a horse in this race. We’re just trying to do right by helping the village,” said Becker, who noted the town is obligated by law to provide the court service if Croton votes to eliminate it. “We offer our full support and will be ready to proceed with whatever is decided.”

Croton Village Justice Sam Watkins, who has served for 16 years and earns an annual salary of $29,000, vehemently opposes the proposed move.

“I don’t think the village can exist in a good and careful manner without the court,” Watkins told trustees. “We are taking away something people moved to the village for—an amenity. We need to protect our own interests.”

Healy presented data showing that between November 2021 and January 2022, only 22% of the 338 individuals who appeared in village court were Croton residents.

Trustees Sherry Horowitz and Alejandro Rosales maintained they were hesitant to approve a change to the village’s government structure so quickly.

“I think we haven’t had proper time to consider the numbers and I find that a bit unsettling. This is a big deal. This isn’t nothing,” Horowitz remarked. “Once the court is gone, it’s gone. I think this is the wrong place to save money. This rush into this is not a good thing.”

Croton Mayor Brian Pugh said it was important for the board to make a decision before the next budget is constructed.

Any vote by the board would be subject to a permissive referendum, which would be triggered by a petition being filed within 30 days containing the signatures of at least 20% of residents who voted in the last election.

The board could also bypass a permissive referendum by scheduling a referendum in a special election that wouldn’t be held until November.

If a resolution approving the consolidation is not challenged, it would become effective Jan. 1, 2023.

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