To the Editor:
On 9 July 2014 the Town Board of Willsboro voted to eliminate one of two Town Justice positions. By doing this it would eliminate one Justice and one Justice Clerk. This action is subject to a public referendum, per New York Town Law. One Willsboro citizen has expressed concern on our process and accused the Town Board of practicing a pattern of secretive or closed government. I would like to set the record straight as to the background and reasons I, as Town Supervisor, have pursued this action.
In the first place this initiative was not started until after Justice Paye, the incumbent Judge whose term ends at the end of the year, had told us that he was retiring from the bench at the end of his term. Justice Paye is held in the highest regard by the entire community of Willsboro and in Essex County. He has given sixteen years of honorable service as a Willsboro Justice and his experience and learned judgment will be missed.
During the March 2014 Town Board meeting I opened discussion on the possible elimination of the Justice position at the end of Justice Paye’s term. I wanted to inform the Town Board and the public, and to get Town Board concurrence to proceed toward that end. I openly discussed this initiative with both Town Justices and each of the Town Board members. I sought procedural guidance from the Town Attorney, the County Attorney, and solicited individual members of the general public.
My reasons primarily are to provide optimum service under increasingly strict fiscal constraints. Costs for the town are increasing, particularly with a looming sixteen percent increase in employee health insurance premiums paid be the town next year. I believe that the town can well afford to operate with one Town Justice.
I have conducted an analysis of the workloads of the by examining the certified work logs provided by each Justice. Currently the Justices alternate weeks of court. Therefore since January of 2014 the Justice and clerk are in court once every two weeks – on Thursdays. On court days they spend an average of 4.58 hours conducting court business. This would include prep time, actual court time, and administrative time. Outside of court days, the Justices log an average of 2.58 hours of work per week. Based on this, the Justices log an average of 9.74 hours per pay period. This works out to roughly fifty dollars per hour.
If we assumed that one Justice position were to be eliminated as resolved by the Town Board, then the remaining Justice would conceivably absorb the entire case load and would work 9.74 hours per week. On weeks that the caseload did not require a court day the Justice would likely only have to work 5.15 hours. Five to ten hours a week is not an unmanageable number of hours to work for a part time position.
How much would the town save by eliminating one Justice? It would first save by a reduction of actual salaries paid. The remaining Justice and clerk would be picking up more work, but would not be paid double of what they are currently making. I estimate we would save at least nine percent in salaries for Justice and clerk positions. Additionally we would save in other costs associated with having extra employees such are required payments into the State retirement system, social security, workers compensation insurance, payroll taxes etc. Additionally we will save in reduced administrative costs of supporting two complete Justice staffs including training costs, travel and meal reimbursements, supplies, and professional literature, etc.
I am working hard to ensure that our local government services are provided in the most optimal and cost effective manner possible. I am also endeavoring to provide a budget that will not raise taxes and not diminish services. The citizens of Willsboro deserve this, and I believe two Justices are a redundancy no longer needed. If there is a need neighboring towns can cover court requirements in case the Justice is absent, sick, or has a conflict of interest. Shared services are a much more efficient avenue to ensure coverage than having two Justices in one town.
Supervisor, Town of Willsboro