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STONE HARBOR - Stone Harbor Business Administrator Robert Smith requested, and received, the assignment to devise a plan for the potential consolidation of Stone Harbor and Avalon’s municipal courts.

The two courts have some shared service arrangements in place, but they are distinct from each other, and are located in each borough, respectively.

Smith told the governing body Aug. 18 that he saw three issues that made some form of consolidation attractive at this time.

Smith cited state judiciary reports that he said made it likely that consolidations will be pushed by the state. “We might as well be ahead of the curve,” he said. Smith was referencing a 2018 report on municipal court operations that is at the center of a wider effort to reform the state’s municipal court system.

Pointing to the fact that Debbie Scott, court administrator, indicated that she will retire at the end of the calendar year, Smith noted this would be the time to explore consolidation since staffing changes would be needed in any event.

The third reason Smith gave to the council was that consolidation would save the borough an estimated $95,000 a year.

Court consolidation can take two forms - shared or joint courts. Smith said the borough would be looking for an arrangement with Avalon for a shared court.

A shared court is one in which two or more municipalities share a location, staff, and supplies but maintain each court’s individual identity, court name, ticket books, bank accounts, and caseloads. Under a joint court, individual identity is lost and complaints from participating police departments are combined.

A shared court also preserves the governing body’s control over judicial appointments; control they would lose in a joint court arrangement.

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