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> Municipal Courts Task Force Charge

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Tompkins County Council of Governments
c/o Michelle Cocco
Governor Daniel D. Tompkins Building
121 E. Court Street
Ithaca, New York 14850
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Municipal Courts Task Force Charge


Charge 1:  Economy

·         Background: 

o   New York State is poised to place a permanent cap on the growth of property taxes levied by local government, significantly limiting the capacity of local governments to maintain basic services.

o   Governor Cuomo has encouraged local governments to eliminate duplication and save money through consolidations, mergers, and shared services, and has made grant dollars available to assist such initiatives.

o   Unlike City and County courts, the cost of operating a town or village court is borne by the host municipality.  Costs that cannot be offset by court-related fees are supported by town and village property taxes. 

o   In addition to the direct costs of operating a court, taxpayers also bear the cost of indirect costs of a decentralized court system including inmate transport and appearances by assigned counsel attorneys and district attorney staff—most of which are provided by Tompkins County.  

·         Charge: 

o   Assess the potential to improve efficiency and reduce costs through structural realignments of the justice courts within Tompkins County, provided that such realignments do not diminish the quality of justice. 

Charge 2:  Quality

·         Background

o   There are eleven town and village courts in Tompkins County presided over by nineteen judges with varying levels of experience and legal training. The courts hear a broad range of cases, including misdemeanor cases that carry sentences of up to one year in jail.  While there is a general consensus that the existing courts in Tompkins County function well, the town and village court structure creates a potential for justice to be unevenly applied from one municipality to another.   

·         Charge:

o   Based on an assessment of the qualitative benefits and detriments of the current municipal court structure, determine whether specific and cost-effective structural changes would be likely to improve the overall quality of justice within Tompkins County.   


The Deliverable:  Task Force Report

The Task Force should conclude its work in a written report to the Tompkins County Council of Governments that sets forth its findings and recommendations.  Recommendations of the task force should be specific, and include any legal actions required to implement the recommendation.  Additionally, each recommendation should be accompanied by an estimate of the related costs and benefits.  


It is suggested the task force report be issued by June 1, 2016.