Shared Court, Shared Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
A Jan. 28 ribbon-cutting marked the ceremonial opening of the new Shared Court of Maplewood and South Orange, but more shared services between the two towns are planned.
The Shared Court of Maplewood and South Orange may have taken three years of painstaking planning between Maplewood and South Orange leaders, but the towns are ready for more punishing work.
According to Maplewood Vice Mayor Kathy Leventhal and South Orange Village Trustee Howard Levison, the Shared Services Committee between the two towns is not resting on its laurels. The committee is deep into research and negotiations on several other projects.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Shared Court on Friday, Leventhal said there are three active projects: Recreation and Cultural Affairs, Fire, and Code Enforcement. She noted that the towns are also looking at information technology but that the other three projects are more 'front burner.'
Which will get done next?
"Code enforcement, that's the first one that will get done," said Levison.
But with Maplewood hosting the shared court, when will it be South Orange's turn? "Recreation will go to South Orange," said Levison. He noted that the shared services committee had requested a proposal from South Orange Recreation. Merging rec departments is not a big stretch, said Levison and Leventhal, as the towns are sharing many recreational activities already. In fact, almost 50% of participants in South Orange recreational activities are Maplewood residents.
"The only thing we don't share is the pool," said Levison. "And that's out of the negotiations." He noted that in Maplewood the pool is its own separate utility.
Next up is the potential merger of fire departments. Said Levison, "We're looking at things we do in common and things we do differently." He continued, "We have four to five things we call deal-breakers." The fire chiefs of the two towns are in the process of writing 'white papers' to help delineate those differences and commonalities. When the papers are done, "we're going to meet and talk through the issues," said Levison.
The four main issues/differences involve EMS, inspections, dispatch and communications signals. The fact that South Orange is a civil service town and Maplewood is not? Not a deal breaker. Said Levison, "It's not a sticking point. The shared services statutes allow us to choose."
Leventhal said that Maplewood and South Orange are also studying Millburn and Summit — two towns that are further along in a similar process.
Leventhal and Levison said there are two different possible outcomes for Maplewood and South Orange's fire departments: the two departments become one; or the towns adopt an automatic mutual aid agreement where the two departments respond as one (as is done now in Summit and Millburn).
Leventhal also noted that, beyond the shared court, the towns have already merged or shared other services. Maplewood provides mechanical services to passenger-type cars in the South Orange municipal fleet. Animal control is shared. And capital equipment — such as a wood chipper — is shared across public works departments.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the shared court, Mayor DeLuca credited Maplewood Deputy Mayor Fred Profeta, who was mayor at the time that the new police and court building was planned. "He had the foresight to plan this building large enough" to accommodate a shared court, said DeLuca.
The shared court now creates one of the largest suburban jurisdictions in New Jersey, said DeLuca. Last fall, DeLuca noted the shared court would see about 40,000 court filings per year — an amount larger than that handled by the city of Orange. The court, which began operations on Jan. 1, handles parking tickets, traffic tickets, citations, and municipal court proceedings. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Payment window closes at 3:30 p.m.)
Overall staff for the two courts has been reduced by two, and Maplewood is enjoying a net benefit of $140,000 in fees from South Orange, while South Orange is freeing up 2,000 square feet of much-needed space in its police headquarters building and "leveraging the economies of scale and inherent efficiencies of combining court administration and violations bureaus in one location in Maplewood's new facility," said Newman.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Newman acknowledged the staff of the South Orange Court. "This was gut-wrenching," said Newman. "Change is never easy." But Newman noted the staff were the "people on the front line" and that they made the transition smoothly and over a holiday week.
But, said Newman, "We need to do more of this and on a shorter time line."
New Jersey State Attorney General Paula Dow, a Maplewood resident, added extra glitter to the event with her presence. Municipal Court Administrator Ryan Bancroft took the time to thank everyone present — and some who were not — during his comments. Bancroft has been credited for coordinating the long process that created the shared court.
When it finally came time to cut the ribbon, both towns had brought their own large-scale ceremonial scissors. Should ceremonial scissors ever be shared, perhaps it would be best to let South Orange take the lead: Doug Newman sported a truly superior pair.