By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
LONGPORT – Following a discussion at the Longport Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday, commissioners said they plan to stick with holding court in Margate. At least for the time being.
The board considered joining the newly formed Atlantic County Consolidated Court System, which offered court sessions at a reduced cost in Mays Landing and remotely, but commissioners decided to renegotiate an agreement it has with Margate to hold court sessions at Margate’s Historic City Hall, 1 S. Washington Ave.
Mayor Nicholas Russo said he supports continuing the borough’s agreement with Margate for at least the next 16 months.
The board on June 15 approved a resolution notifying Margate that it was considering dissolving their interlocal agreement in consideration of a better offer from the Atlantic County Central Municipal Court System, which the county put into effect on Jan. 3. The resolution fulfilled the borough’s responsibility to notify Margate it might dissolve the agreement according to an agreed upon timeline – six months before the end of the current term that expires Dec. 31.
The borough currently pays Margate $120,000 a year, an $80,000 savings over what it cost Longport before the three-year interlocal service agreement was finalized two years ago.
On Thursday, Aug. 18, Margate Administrator Richard Deaney said the city would approve a revised agreement with reduced costs to keep Longport in the Margate court.
Longport Administrator A. Scott Porter said the borough could join the county system for $42,100 a year, an additional savings to Longport taxpayers of approximately $77,900. A new agreement with Margate could save Longport an additional $40,000 in 2023.
“I think what is best for Longport is that we continue with Margate,” Russo said.
Porter said he met with the commissioners individually to determine how the borough should proceed – stay with Margate or join the county system.
“Margate is willing to renegotiate with lower fees,” Borough solicitor Michael Affanato said, but for what duration, he asked.
“The county would like our decision by the end of October, and Margate would like an answer by the end of the month.”
Affanato said if the board decides to stick with Margate, it should agree first on the terms and conditions.
Porter said the new agreement would be effective Sept. 1 and last until the end of 2023.
In an effort to maintain Longport’s case load and shared funding, Margate offered the borough a better deal, which the borough has yet to approve. It is doubtful that an amended shared services agreement could be approved by the end of August. However, Longport officials received confirmation from Margate on Wednesday that it would allow Longport the time needed to get the renegotiated agreement approved at Longport’s next commission meeting.
In the amended agreement, Longport will pay Margate $3,500 per month for the use of the courtroom at Historic City Hall and administrative services, and Longport will continue to pay for its own judge, prosecutor and public defender. The total cost will be about $80,000, Russo said.
Russo said he has heard that the consolidated court has been experiencing growing pains, has staffing shortages and that the borough should wait until those problems are resolved before leaving the Margate court system.
Commissioner of Public Safety Dan Lawler and Commissioner of Finance Jim Leeds agreed to negotiate an amended agreement with Margate.
The amended agreement needs to be ratified by both communities. Longport’s next meeting is on Sept. 21, and Margate meets next on Sept. 1.
Copyright Mediawize, LLC 2022