ANCRAM—“Business is booming” in Ancram Town Court.
So said Town Court Clerk Ruth Wittlinger when she delivered the annual court report at the February 20 Town Board meeting.
Mrs. Wittlinger, who has been working alongside her husband, Town Justice George Wittlinger, Sr., in Ancram Court for the past 21 years, told the board, the number of court cases in 2019 were at an all-time high of 594. That’s 150 more cases or a 25% increase over 2018 when the number of cases totaled 444.
“We justify our existence,” she noted.
Over the past 22 years, the average number of court cases per year was 371, ranging from a low of 131 in 1998, to the high of 594 last year.
Translated to dollars and cents, the court reported the collection of $62,508 last year to the Office of the State Comptroller. Once reported, the comptroller breaks out how much money goes to the state, county and what portion returns to the town. In 2019, that amount was $30,272.
There is no set percentage rate at which money is returned to the town. Money collected in fines, fees or surcharges is returned at different rates depending on the law broken. For example, 25% of fines collected for speeding come back to the town, Mrs. Wittlinger said in a follow-up phone call this week.
In 2018 the local court collected $45,889 of which $25,602 was returned to the town.
The vast majority of cases last year–575–fell into the Vehicle and Traffic Law category, with Penal Law cases a distant second, at 12. Violations of Civil Law made up the remaining seven cases. About 10% of the cases were close-outs from prior years. When drivers, who have had their licenses suspended due to non-payment of fines, discover they cannot renew them, they decide it’s time to settle up with the court, Mrs. Wittlinger said.
She attributes the rise in cases to the increased presence of State troopers and Sheriff’s deputies in town writing tickets.
Early on in 2019, after hearing concerns from residents about too many pedal-to-the-metal motorists, especially zooming through the hamlets, town officials purchased two digital radar signs to let drivers know how fast they are going and at the same time called on law enforcement agencies to patrol around town more to enforce speed limits. Both methods seem to have improved the situation.
Mrs. Wittlinger said the Town Court may be the only department that pays for itself. “We cover our expenses—salaries, court security. The town breaks even on us.”
Catherine L. Redlich is also a town justice and Susan Tirante is a court clerk.
In other business, the board:
• Conducted a public hearing and completed a State Environmental Quality Review certification (negative declaration) on a local law that incorporates the original 2003 supplemental regulations for the Scenic Corridor Overlay Zone (SCOZ) into current Zoning Law adopted in 2014. The new local law will be considered for adoption in March
• Agreed to contract with CPL Engineering to do an analysis of costs and financial/environmental benefits associated with the installation of a new geothermal heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system for Town Hall compared to a new conventional system. The cost of the study is $3,500
• Agreed to get a cost proposal from a local contractor for the replacement of light fixtures/lights converting them to LEDs at Town Hall and the Town Highway Garage
• Agreed to put up yellow caution signs on Woods Drive and submit a request to the county/state for a speed limit reduction on that road from 55 to 35 mph
• Observed a moment of silence in honor of Jack Seiber at the request of Deputy Supervisor Hugh Clark, who said Mr. Seiber exemplified volunteerism in the town through his interest and work on the Comprehensive Plan and town Financial Advisory Council both while he lived here and even after he moved away. Mr. Seiber died February 4 in Sarasota, Florida.
The Town Board conducts a special board meeting Thursday, March 12, 2020 at 7 p.m. “to discuss any matters that come before the Board.”
There will also be a public hearing on streetlight conversion to LEDs Saturday, March 14 at 10 a.m.
The town’s next regular meeting is March 19. All meetings are at the Town Hall.
To contact Diane Valden email