PORT HENRY - The towns of Moriah, Crown Point and Westport are investigating a shared court house.
All three communities face a state mandate for greater court space.
"We all have the same issues," Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said. "The state is offering incentives for consolidation of services and this certainly fits. Why spend the money for three court houses when we can all use the same one?"
While discussions are on-going, it's likely the shared court building would be located in Port Henry - central to the three communities - according to Scozzafava and Crown Point Supervisor Dale French.
"We've discussed it and the Crown point town board supports the concept," French said.
But while talks are in progress, Moriah and Crown Point are proceeding with plans to upgrade their current court facilities.
Moriah is now seeking bids for an addition to the current court house at Park Place in Port Henry. If the joint venture becomes reality, Scozzafava said the addition will be adequate to welcome the Crown Point and Westport courts.
"Our (Moriah) court meets two nights a week," Scozzafava said. "We could easily allow Crown Point and Westport to hold court here."
French said the Crown Point court, now located in the Miller building, meets once a week. Plans for improvements at the Miller building will continue even as court talks proceed.
"The work at the Miller building needs to be done, whether the court stays there or not," French said. "We're going to proceed with that work while looking at the joint court proposal. I think it makes a lot of sense."
If the Crown Point court moves, French said, the space at the Miller building can be used to help alleviate over-crowding at the town hall.
"The buzz word coming from Albany the past few years has been 'shared services'," Scozzafava said. "Do 18 different (Essex County) towns need 18 different court houses?
"If we pursue a shared court facility it'll hopefully open the door to state and federal funding," he added.
Scozzafava said recently the town will use student labor from the Champlain Valley Tech campus in Mineville for the court project.
"I think we can do it with the money we've received from the (state) Office of Court Administration," Scozzafava said. "It'll be a good experience for the students and it fits our budget."
The state Office of Court Administration has promised Moriah nearly $50,000 for the construction.
No one can blame Moriah residents if they're confused about the court project.
Steven Gold of the New York State Office of Court Administration told the Moriah town board in June 2008 the present 12x14 foot room that serves as Moriah town court is inadequate and must be addressed.
The town had plans to erect its own modular building to house its court and police department adjacent to the town hall at Park Place in Port Henry. That project was shelved when the cost soared.
Originally expected to cost about $170,000, estimates for a new court building reached as high as $500,000 because of state regulations and mandates. Scozzafava believed the final cost would be about $300,000.
Town trustees then considered several short-term solutions to the court situation, including renting space. Officials felt they had found space, the Mountaintime Furniture Building on Broad Street in Port Henry, but found it would cost $200,000 to bring the building up to state court code.
Finally - or it seemed at the time - the Moriah town board voted unanimously Feb. 10 to ignore a state order to construct a new house, citing affordability.
Then in March, hoping to get federal funding, Moriah officials noted the possibility of reviving a years-old plan to construct a joint municipal building with the village of Port Henry to house town court and police along with the village fire department. That initial plan fell apart last spring when a suitable location and timetable for construction couldn't be found.