The Village of East Aurora may get back into the court business.
After an 11-year absence, the idea -- informally pitched Monday by Trustee Patrick McDonnell -- interested many board members as soon as he began talking it up.
"I think it's time we look at taking our courts back," McDonnell said during a work session.
He cited an overloaded Aurora Town Court system and the fact that nearly 100 percent of all the parking tickets written by police officers are given within the village.
"The Town Court is getting busier and busier," McDonnell said after the meeting. "A third justice would spread out the caseload more fairly."
"If 100 percent of the parking tickets are written [in the village], it would more than pay for itself," said Trustee Kevin Biggs, a Buffalo police officer.
Presently, the Town Court, which is housed in Village Hall, handles all judicial matters in the village and town with two elected justices. If the village decides to reinstate Village Justice Court, the Town Court would continue to function under state law.
The proposal comes at an interesting time when village and town officials have said they want to continue studying consolidated services and moving into a joint municipal facility in the future. Those discussions occurred a few years ago but went nowhere until a recent state grant renewed the effort to study the issue again.
Even though village officials were careful Monday to stress that they are not considering the court idea solely as a way to bring in more revenue, they acknowledged that it would generate money for village coffers based on certain tickets -- such as parking citations -- that it would process.
"We're really not changing the volume. We're still writing the same tickets, but it's just a matter of which court adjudicates them," Trustee Keith Bender said.
The town budgets an estimated $160,000 in court/fine-generated revenue each year, according to Village Administrator Kimberly LaMarche. In contrast, the village receives about $10,000 annually for its share of such revenues.
Cost will be a large factor in whether the Village Court idea goes anywhere. The village would have to pay the salaries of a justice and court clerk and consider a prosecutor, as well. Village Court probably would operate two nights a month.
Bender said it is important to establish realistic costs for a village-run court. "We don't want to do anything that will put us in the red," he said. "We want it self-sustaining and more efficient than we have."
Village Attorney Robert Pierce says the timing for such a move could be good, since state money is available to help municipalities accommodate recent regulation changes for courts and more of a push for modernizing record-keeping.
"It may be just as efficient to have a village court as a town court," Pierce said.
Village Hall already knows its plan -- which would face a public hearing if it was proposed as a local law/village code change -- will not be drawing cheers at Town Hall.
"The town won't be happy," Bender said. "This would impact the town's revenue."
Village officials noted that in 2003, there were boxes of parking tickets that had not been processed through the Town Court due to the overload of work facing the court. Now, town officials have told the village that work has since been caught up, LaMarche said Monday night.
The village, which abolished its court in 1996, is looking into incomplete court work. East Aurora Police Chief Ron Krowka said he is studying how many parking tickets have been written since 2003 and what is their disposition.
Traffic tickets issued by police are split, with about half of them occurring in the village and half in the town, Krowka said.
The Village Board plans to set a public hearing date on the Village Court idea when it meets next Monday. Reinstating Village Court could be done by board resolution or a village code change with a public hearing that would be subject to a permissive referendum. The latter appears to be the board's preference.
A village justice could be appointed until a general election is held, or a special election could be arranged, village officials said.