CHATHAM—The board voted unanimously to pass a local law eliminating the Village Court and the position of village judge at their online meeting February 8. Court will remain open until early April, when the term of current Village Judge James Borgia-Forster is up.
Currently the court has suspended in-person meetings due to the pandemic. Most issues are being handled online. Normally the court meets in the Tracy Memorial Village Hall twice a month.
The Village Board held a public hearing on the local law, also online, before the board’s regular meeting. One resident, Lael Locke, a former village trustee, asked why the board planned to close the court and whether it was for financial reasons.
Mayor John Howe said, yes, that mostly the court was sustained by the revenues it brought in, adding that in years past court finances had been “pretty much a wash.” But he said that as of last year “we’re in the red.”
In 2020, the court had to shut down due to the pandemic, which led to no revenue from court activity. In addition to the cost of the court, the mayor said that the village paid two police officers to be at court when cases were being heard.
Mayor Howe also said it would be a good time to consolidate the courts, something the governor supports. Tickets and other court issues in the village will now go to the town courts in Chatham and Ghent. Part of the village is in the Town of Chatham and part in the Town of Ghent.
Of the four villages in the county, only Kinderhook and Philmont still have their own courts. Issues in the Village of Valatie go to the Town of Kinderhook court. Valatie dissolved its court in 2010.
In a related matter, the Chatham Village Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative is hosting an online public hearing next Tuesday, February 16 to present its findings. Last year, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order requiring local police agencies statewide “to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including but not limited to use of force.” Police forces in the state must adopt a plan by April 1. The mayor formed the committee early last fall.
Chatham and Philmont are the only villages in the county with their own police forces. Chatham’s Police Department is a part-time force.
There is information on how to attend the public hearing at the village website at villageofchatham.com
Also at the meeting:
• Mayor Howe talked about the process for declaring a snow emergency and thanked the Department of Public Works staff for their hours spent clearing roads during the snowstorm earlier this month
• The board accepted an updated Emergency Preparedness Plan. Fire Chief Eric Barnes said that over a year ago, before the pandemic hit, he began reviewing the village plan. He said that it had been well over 10 years since the plan was previously reviewed and that this updated plan has been given a “total overhaul.”
During the fire department report, Chief Barnes said the department is applying for a grant with the Ghent Fire Department for new turn-out gear that needs to be replaced. Mayor Howe pointed out that the fire company meets weekly to review the health of its members
• Mayor Howe said he is still negotiating a new contract for the AT&T cell tower in the village. He said the company currently pays the village about $35,600 a year for the lease and that the company negotiating for AT&T is offering a lower fee with a new 5-year lease. The mayor said he would start out with the same amount, with increases over the five years.
The next Village Board meeting will be March 8 at 7 p.m.