During their April meeting, members of the New Albion Town Council heard an informative report from Justice Brenda A. Smith. She told them that her department had already spent, in the first fiscal quarter, over a third of its annual budget. She explained this was due to the many extra hours being worked by Court Clerk Daniel Busekist to catch up past records and scofflaw data on ignored and unpaid fines.
Judge Smith added that Busekist had unearthed data revealing that the town was currently owed between $30,000 and $40,000 in unpaid fines and from $20,000 to $25,000 in court fees, dating back probably more than ten years.
Smith said she was so alarmed by the clerk's discoveries that she requested assistance from the New York State Unified Court System. An officer of that body's Court Administration visited New Albion to survey the records. Upon discovering how much in arrears the court had become, this representative told Smith that not only was the local court owed money, but that the "court fee" part of all that uncollected revenue was by rights due to New York State. She added that it was up to the town court to collect it and properly disburse it.
In another serious court-related issue, Smith said the court officer told her it appeared that many tickets issued in the past had never been properly processed as criminal disposition records (CDRs). Accordingly, a motorist ticketed in New Albion for a DWI, could get a similar ticket in another township, and have it come up as his first, rather than second (or third, or fourth) such infraction. She pointed out that overlooked disposition procedures bypass legal record-keeping and potentially allow repeat offenders to avoid appropriate punishment.
The court officer assured Smith that she would continue assisting the New Albion court get to the bottom of its backlog. "She said she'd start checking the 1990's records and work forward," said Smith. "She told me we should continue working backward from our end, with the idea that we would eventually meet."
"So," she told the board, "the state wants us to get caught up; but since we realize it'll take us over budget, we need to know if we have permission to continue."
Supervisor Loyd Chilson responded that the town is already a quarter of the way into its fiscal year. "That budget was set," he said. "I don't see how we can change it now."
Smith told the board that Clerk Busekist was originally scheduled to work only seven hours per week, although she now doubted that would have been enough to keep up with even the regular court work since the court's case load has been increasing significantly. She said that when she budgeted for court costs last fall, she had no idea of the problems that would emerge.
"But we've been having a lot more people show up for court lately," said Smith, "and as I've explained, the clerk has been putting in a lot of extra time on these old records. Lately, he's been working between 22 to30 hours a week, and still not making sufficient headway, although I come in to help whenever I can."
Treasurer Gene Doucette pointed out that the town had potentially available funds that it could divert to the court if necessary. In the past the court has collected around $7,000 per year, whereas, in the first quarter of this year, almost half that amount has already been realized. Court cases are currently averaging about ten more per week than used to be the case, with a corresponding hike in income.
After discussing the situation, the council voted unanimously, authorizing the court clerk to continue working extra hours as needed, at least through the next quarter. "Maybe by then," commented Councilman Michael Weishan, "we'll be able to see how this is working out."
At that point, Highway Supervisor Jerry Cobo made his report. He said that snowplows have been removed, and that his crew has turned to cutting brush, clearing ditches and sweeping roads. He said that they had also checked and repaired roadway signs, as well as graded and raked gravel roads.
Cobo suggested that the town initiate bond procurement procedures for payment of the new truck anticipated to be delivered in May. He said the department planned to sell the old truck.
Additionally, the supervisor announced that Andy Jones will be retiring from the highway department after thirty years of service to the town.
The council then opened nominations submitted by the public for the town's 2010 Richard L. Murphy Citizenship Award. After the tabulations were completed, Raymond Pascarella was announced as this year's recipient. He will be honored at the 7:00 p.m. start of the town council's next regular meeting, Monday, May 17. The public is welcome to be present for this brief presentation, after which participants are invited to attend a celebratory ice-cream social at Pascarella's Restaurant.