Summit merges courts with neighboring towns

SUMMIT, NJ — Summit has joined with Berkeley Heights and New Providence to share municipal court services, a consolidation of courts in the three northwestern Union County towns that will eventually center itself in New Providence.

Berkeley Heights and New Providence have had a shared-services agreement since 2010, expanded in 2014; Summit recently joined in with a pact announced at the Dec. 5 Summit Common Council meeting.

The consolidation will require several months of renovation and expansion to New Providence’s court facilities, which will require all three town’s court services to be conducted in Summit in the meantime.

Summit spokesperson Amy Cairns said the construction is expected to last three to four months although, according to the Berkeley Heights’ website, the renovation is estimated to be completed in May.

When the work is finished, all three municipalities will move back into the New Providence Courthouse at 360 Elkwood Ave.
Cairns said each of the three municipalities is contributing $74,000 for the renovations, to be paid across three years.

Despite the court’s relocation to New Providence, “Summit residents will still be served by their own court with its own jurisdiction,” Summit Common Council President Michael McTernan said in a Dec. 6 press release.

Cairns told LocalSource that after the move to New Providence, Summit’s current municipal court facilities, located at 512 Springfield Ave., will be used for meetings and other purposes.

Summit officials estimate that the consolidation of its court through the shared services agreement will save the municipality more than $100,000 annually after renovation costs are repaid. Once the consolidation is complete, all three towns will share a prosecutor, judge and court administrator.

The New Jersey Judiciary estimates that “about one in five New Jersey municipal courts is currently part of a joint or shared services arrangement,” with 18 of the state’s 21 counties having “at least one merged municipal court,” according to Summit’s Dec. 6 press release.
McTernan touted the shared-service agreement as cutting costs in staffing and administration.

“The consolidation of Summit’s municipal court with New Providence and Berkeley Heights will save money and directly benefit taxpayers by reducing the number of court facilities and staff size, as well as required court security measures and administrative oversight,” he said.
“This is the latest in a series of shared services implemented by the common council over the last several years.”

In another move aimed at reducing costs, Summit transferred its emergency dispatch to private entity Mountain Valley Emergency Communications that provides dispatch services for Millburn, New Providence and Summit.

“It has gone very well,” Cairns told LocalSource. “At first some residents were nervous, but the Mount Valley Emergency Communications has saved us significant cost.”

She also praise the level of service and response.
Western Union County municipalities are not the only ones participating in shared service agreements, according to Mike Cerra of the New Jersey League of Municipalities. Shared services agreements are common throughout New Jersey and an ongoing process, he told the LocalSource in a Dec. 8 phone interview. Municipalities have been sharing services for decades, Cera said.

Prior to the Interlocal Services Act enacted in August 1973, municipalities just shook hands on shared services rather than signing official documents. Cerra added that the shared service agreements are maintained as long as all parties benefit, either through reduced costs or efficiencies.

Looking to the future, Cerra said more local governments will probably look into participating in such agreements.