The Town Council took another step Monday night, Sept. 10, toward setting up Barrington’s first-ever municipal court.
The councilors voted 4-1 to ask Michael Ursillo, the town solicitor, to draft an ordinance to create the court. Bill DeWitt cast the only nay vote. The ordinance could be introduced as early as the Town Council’s October or November meetings.
Either way, said Town Councilor Cynthia Coyne, who has been shepherding the push for a municipal court, a public hearing will be held no later than the December meeting.
Set-up costs are expected to be around $2,500, according to Dean Huff, finance director.
“There is a need for very little infrastructure,” said Huff. “It’s already here.”
Coyne said Barrington’s Probate Court is being used as a model. Implementation would be phased in over a few months during the second half of the current fiscal year. There is no budget right now for the court.
Revenue generated by the court is unknown, said Huff.
“It’s difficult to project the revenue,” he said. “But I think operating costs will be covered by violations of local ordinances.”
The court would handle disorderly conduct, assault, vandalism and alcohol possession cases, said LaCross, and deal with violations of the dog ordinance, harbor issues, trespassing, and minimum housing and zoning laws.
Last year, the police chief said, Barrington had about 200 disorderly conduct, assault, vandalism and illegal possession of alcohol cases. With court costs alone of $35 for each case, the town would earn revenue of about $7,000.
That money, which now goes to District Court, will stay in Barrington instead.
DeWitt said he voted against writing the ordinance because: "We haven't seen the data. We need more due diligence. We need to do our homework."
The cost estimates are expected to be presented before a final vote is taken, he said. But he questioned why the town is paying the solicitor to write an ordinance until the idea for a municipal court is "fully vetted."
Coyne and Police Chief John LaCross all said they see the court more as a “huge convenience” for Barrington residents who will no longer have to travel to District Court. It is not seen as a huge new revenue stream.
Indeed, Huff and LaCross both suggest continuing to send moving violations – about 1,300 to 1,600 a year -- to the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, which gives back to Barrington about $40,000 in fines and fees each year.
If Barrington handled moving violations, Huff said, the town would still have to share the fines and fees with the state. And it would have to set up a system to handle the fines and fees that now works very efficiently at the Traffic Tribunal.
At this time, Huff said, the number of moving violations a year in Barrington might simply be too big to handle -- perhaps forever.
The Municipal Court could also deal with local violations at times that are most convenient for residents – perhaps even at nights a couple of days a month, said Ursillo. That’s how Bristol’s Municipal Court deals with many local violations, he said.
Patrol officers who now must travel to the District Court -- drawing four hours of overtime pay, according to their contract, said LaCross -- could stay in Barrington and, perhaps, handle cases during their regular shifts. The town would save the overtime costs.