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Doomed proposal to dissolve Lancaster Village Court girds political resolve

The newly adopted $6.5 million Lancaster village budget is generating more attention about the nearly dead push by a trustee to dissolve the Village Court.

Trustee Russell W. Sugg – the maverick on the Village Board who has pushed hard since last year to eliminate the court and have it consolidated into Town Court operations as a way to save taxpayer money– now says it appears his deal may well be dead because of lack of support by the village and town.

“It was a win-win for everyone,” Sugg said Saturday. “But it will not go forward now. If we’re going to be undermined at the town level, who is to know what would be done behind the scenes?”

Sugg recently asked the Town Board for its support for $7,500 to help pay for part of a government study for possible consolidation of the courts, but Democrats on the board opposed it. Sugg has had a hard time winning support for his proposal.

But Republican Town Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli, with whom Sugg is politically aligning himself in the November election, would have pursued it.

“It’s so painfully obvious that this is a good thing to do,” Fudoli said. “The village has a flawed ideology that government is there to provide jobs for the middle class.”

“It was hard work, just to get to this point,” Sugg said. “Now, the town Democrats refuse.”

Sugg said he expects a village committee on Monday to withdraw the request for a state-backed grant that was being sought this summer for a court study.

For months, Sugg has insisted the village could save nearly $72,000 in expenses by eliminating its court – more than the $40,000 to $60,000 originally estimated. The new village budget allocates nearly $77,000 to operate its court.

The Town Court, with two part-time judges and four clerks, operates more efficiently than its village counterpart, Sugg said. The town spent $245,739 to operate its court in 2013. Sugg said the town also could save money by absorbing Village Court operations, which has one part-time judge and a court clerk.

But village trustees question Sugg’s figures and analysis. Also complicating the proposal is that even if Village Court were to end, it could not be dissolved until 2017, when the current justice term ends.

The court issue, is in part, driving Sugg to run for one of two Town Board seats up for election in November. “That is yet another reason why I am entering the race for town council member ... to bring reason, common sense, integrity and transparency back to the Town Board,” he said.

Fudoli acknowledged that Sugg will likely be part of the GOP town slate for fall, although formal party endorsements are not expected until Tuesday evening. Longtime Democratic Town Clerk Johanna M. Coleman is expected to face opposition from Republican Lindsay B. Weisenburg. Coleman is reportedly considering a run against Fudoli for supervisor but declined to comment when asked about that recently.

Under the new village budget, which takes effect June 1, the tax levy increases by 1.04 percent. All staffing and programs remain intact. The new tax rate will be $10.11 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, reflecting a 0.96 percent increase – the second consecutive year that the tax increase is below 1 percent.