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Combined courts law is headed to governor

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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NEW BOSTON — State lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow three Tug Hill towns — Harrisburg, Pinckney and Montague — to form the state's first elected combined justice court.


"This is a great day for residents of the three towns," Lewis County Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, said Thursday afternoon after learning the bill had been approved by the Assembly. "Consolidation of government at all levels is a good thing."


The Senate passed similar legislation Monday.


Mr. Lucas, who represents the three towns on the county Legislature, said he expects the governor to have no qualms signing the bill into law, given his support for municipal consolidation efforts.


"We are very pleased to be one of the first areas in the state to demonstrate how this can happen," John K. Bartow Jr., executive director of Tug Hill Commission, said in a statement.


Several other communities, both local and elsewhere in the state, have expressed interest in the five-year-old project, Mr. Bartow has said.


Harrisburg Town Justice John B. Woods — who also presides over Pinckney and Montague town courts — since February has been conducting all three courts in a single facility, the Harrisburg Town Hall, through intermunicipal agreements. However, state approval is needed to make the three-town judge position a permanent, elected one.


With Judge Woods's term as Harrisburg justice expiring at the end of the year, officials hope to include the new four-year combined justice post in this fall's general election.


"Hopefully, this consolidation legislation will serve as a shining example as to what can be accomplished when all branches and levels of government — local, county and state — work together to resolve and solve a common concern," said Fifth Judicial District Administrative Judge James C. Tormey III in a statement.


Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, and state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, on Thursday issued a joint release announcing the bill's passage.


"This initiative is just one example of how local government entities can consolidate, share resources and be more efficient," Mr. Blankenbush said in the release.


"I'm convinced that other municipalities will see the success of this merger and take similar steps to consolidate related governmental functions," Mr. Griffo added. "If regional entities can collaborate in sharing a court, they may be able to find other areas to share resources too."


Montague has shared a justice with Pinckney since 1998 because no Montague residents have been interested in the job. Terry A. Brownell, a Pinckney resident, was justice for both towns until stepping down in late 2007. When no potential replacement came forward, Judge Woods was allowed by temporary order to serve as justice for Pinckney and Montague as well, holding court in the three different locations each month prior to February.


The towns are using the Harrisburg Town Hall, built in 2002, as the primary court facility because it is relatively new and spacious, fully accessible and centrally located and has free wireless Internet service. The Montague and Pinckney town offices are not fully accessible and do not have adequate record storage space.

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