The Joint Municipal Court of Madison, Chatham Borough, Chatham Township and Harding was a "resounding success" in its first year of operation, saving nearly $500,000 among the four participating Morris County municipalities.
“All municipalities are experiencing severe financial challenges in this economic climate and must find ways to do more with less," Madison Councilwoman Jeannie Tsukamoto, founding chairwoman of the Joint Municipal Court Committee, said in a release.
"Shared service is the most cost-effective way to provide quality services and programs. The success of our Joint Court is a superb example. The transition to the Joint Court for each participating municipality was seamless. The quality of services was enhanced. Most importantly, we have achieved our projected savings.
"We thank Judge Gary Troxell and the staff for their excellent work. Madison really appreciates the partnerships from Chatham Borough, Chatham Township and Harding. We are very proud of this accomplishment and look forward to its continued success,” Tsukamoto said.
The case load breakdown for the joint court in 2011 totaled 45 percent for Madison, Chatham Borough 28 percent, Harding 15 percent and Chatham Township 12 percent, according to Madison Assistant Borough Administrator Jim Burnet.
The inter-local agreement signed by all four municipalities requires that a Joint Court Committee meet quarterly, with elected officials from each municipality meeting to discuss management and operations of the court. A representative from Chatham Borough is slated to chair the committee in 2012.
Madison officials first proposed the concept of a joint court to the other municipalities in early 2010 during the renovation. Part of the renovation was to construct a new state-of- the-art courtroom with security and handicap accessibility.
The initial studies showed that the existing Madison staff could handle the combined caseload of the four municipalities. This, along with additional economies of scale, would generate approximately 40 percent savings in operating costs among the four municipalities. In addition, other municipalities would avoid expensive facility upgrades and maintenance costs, the release stated.
There are only a handful of joint courts in the state but present unique challenges. As an example, municipal court judges are typically nominated by local governing bodies, while joint court judges are nominated by the Governor. Municipalities are often not willing to give up control.
In the case of the Madison Joint Court, Troxell, who has served as judge in Madison and other Morris County municipalities for many years, was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie.
“We appreciated Gov. Christie appointing Judge Troxell to the Joint Court,” outgoing Mayor Mary-Anna Holden, who accepted the 2011 “Innovation in Governance Award” from the State Department of Community Affairs at the League of Municipalities Conference in November for the Joint Court’s cost savings, said in the release.
Each municipality has an equal vote on all matters, including the budget. “Equal voice sets the tone for true partnership,” Madison Borough Administrator Raymond Codey said in the release. Codey was instrumental in working with the other municipalities’ administrators to make the Joint Court a reality.
Madison has a history of working with its neighboring municipalities to reduce costs. Madison and Chatham Borough have managed the Madison Chatham Joint Meeting Sewage Treatment Facility for over 100 years.
The Joint Meeting is the oldest and longest standing inter-local shared service arrangement in the state. Madison’s has been providing services for neighboring municipalities for more than 30 years. This year, Madison also finalized a shared service arrangement to provide Construction Official Services to Chatham Borough.
“Saving taxpayers nearly $500,000 with the Joint Court is a great accomplishment, but we must continue to innovate and further reduce costs and tax burden,” Tsukamoto said.