Barrington should have its fisrt Municipal Court operating by July.
The Town Council voted 4-1 Monday evening to approve the proposed ordinance setting up the court that was introduced at its last meeting. Bill DeWitt was the only nay vote.
"I have a big concern about making the police department a revenue generator," said DeWitt.
He also asked if Barrington couldn't, perhaps, work with a neighboring town to share a court?
Councilor Cynthia Coyne, the prime proponent of the court, said: "Burrillville and North Smithfield tried to share a municipal court. It didn't work. After a year, they went back to the legislature and asked for legislation to set up their own courts."
Town Council President June Speakman said: "I think it is a good, low-cost way to improve services."
Cost of setting up the court is estimated at around $3,600 -- primarily for the salary of a judge, according to estimates provided by Town Treasurer Dean Huff working with Coyne and Barrington Police Chief John LaCross.
Revenues generated by the court are projected at around $4,000 up to $8,000 depending on the dismissals and the fines levied by the judge, Huff said. The court is not expected to be a major source of revenue -- at least not at the start.
"It's not about the money," said Huff. "I think it will just break even."
The convenience of handling local violations at the local level is the prime reason the Town Council voted to set up the court. Barrington residents will no longer have to travel to Providence for charges such as vandalism, disorderly conduct and possession of alcohol by a minor.
LaCross said the Municipal Court is expected to cut down on some overtime by police officers who can now go to the Town Hall instead of to Providence for certain violations.
"This is by no means a foreign concept," said Coyne. "And we're not starting from scratch."
Twenty-three other cities and towns in Rhode Island have municipal courts, she said. Many handle traffic violations, which do generate tens of thousands of dollars a year for the municipalities.
"We're going to set this up very deliberately," said Coyne."We can think about expanding into that (traffic violations) later."
Coyne does not expect the court to hear its first case until July.
"I think we'll be ready by the next fiscal year," she said.
The Municipal Court will meet the third Thursday morning of every month for approximately two hours.
The ordinance gives the municipal court jurisdiction over minimum housing and zoning ordinances and any other Barrington ordinances except traffic laws to start. Moving and non-moving traffic violations will still be handled by the RI Traffic Tribunal.
The judge will have the power to set bail and levy a fine of up to $1,000 and imprison violators for up to 30 days.
The Town Council will appoint a judge, clerk and bailiff for at least two years. The judge would have to be a lawyer with at least 15 years experience and able to practice before the RI Supreme Court.
A bailiff for the court also would be appointed by the Town Council to keep order in the court. The police department would also be involved in court proceedings. LaCross suggested that Barrington purchase a metal-detecting wand.
Court costs would be $45 per charged offense. All the fees and fines would go into the town general fund.