Massena Board of Trustees votes to move forward with dissolving village court, justice office
BY ANDY GARDNER
North Country This Week
MASSENA -- The Board of Trustees voted to move forward with dissolving the village court and village justice office.
They voted unanimously during their Tuesday, Sept. 15 monthly meeting streamed online via Zoom.Mayor Tim Currier said while the village court isn’t a big piece of their annual budget, “there are many smaller pieces of our budget that add up.”
“I think there’s too much local government,” he said, adding that he believes the combined $32 million annual budget for the town and village “in my view is too high.
“In the last 17 years, the tax rate per thousand has raised 57 percent,” the mayor said.
The court will remain in operation until the end of 2022. The village can’t legally dissolve it until all the sitting justices’ terms have expired.
The board had some pushback from a sitting village justice and two representatives of the Massena Landlords Association.
Village Justice Eric Sharlow said he feels shutting down the court will be an elimination of a service people expect.
“Now is not the time to do away with one of the three branches of government our Constitution is based upon,” he said.
Sharlow said because Massena has such a large police force, “those police officers doing their job are creating business for the courts.”
“The village police department is very, very busy. In being busy, they create work for the courts,” he said.
Massena Landlords Association representatives David Labelle and Dennis Kemison repeated some of the concerns they aired last month -- that a reduction in judges could drag out eviction proceedings.
“It seems like we’re given very little consideration in this matter. If there were a giant fiscal benefit … we would agree with it too. We would have to agree with Judge Sharlow that we’re getting less for our money,” Labelle said. “It seems that small business is not being taken into consideration.”
The pair also went in front of the Town Council last month and didn’t feel like they made any progress there either.
“They told us there were no negotiations ongoing to make a system that would flow,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Matt Lebire said he doesn’t think this will lead to a reduction in services.
“I have full faith the services can be continued and I’m optimistic this will also show there are other areas that we can get together on … and the obstacles aren’t as big as you think,” he said.
Mayor Currier said there is enough time before the dissolution is official to figure out how to ensure a smooth transition.
“This wouldn’t take effect for more than two years … that’s plenty of time to sit down with the town,” he said. “I don’t see how we’re taking that service away … We’re just putting the burden for this service on the Town of Massena because there’s no statutory obligation for a village court.”