Pro­posed court re­lo­ca­tion awaits vot­ers’ ver­dict

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Pa­tri­cia Doxsey pdoxsey@free­manon­line.com pat­ti­at­free­man on Twit­ter

In ad­di­tion to elect­ing the per­son who will lead the na­tion for the next four years, Ul­ster County vot­ers on Nov. 8 will be called upon to de­cide an is­sue much closer to home: whether the county should be al­lowed to move its Fam­ily Court out of the city of Kingston.

The propo­si­tion be­fore vot­ers will read: “In or­der to im­prove services to the chil­dren and fam­i­lies of Ul­ster County, re­duce the need to raise prop­erty taxes and sat­isfy state man­dates, the County of Ul­ster pro­poses to re­lo­cate the cur­rent leased site of the Ul­ster County Fam­ily Court, lo­cated at 16 Lu­cas Av­enue

in the City of Kingston, County of Ul­ster, State of New York, to a more suit­able county-owned prop­erty si­t­u­ated less than 800 feet from the City of Kingston line, lo­cated at 1 De­vel­op­ment Court, Ul­ster Av­enue in the Town of Ul­ster, County of Ul­ster, State of New York. Shall this propo­si­tion be ap­proved?”

County lead­ers are look­ing for voter ap­proval to move the court from its leased lo­ca­tion at 16 Lu­cas Ave. in Kingston to the county-owned Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter on Ul­ster Av­enue in the town of Ul­ster. The pro­posed move is in re­sponse to a de­mand by the state Office of Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which over­sees all court op­er­a­tions, to im­me­di­ately ad­dress de­fi­cien­cies in the Fam­ily Court fa­cil­i­ties or face the risk of los­ing state aid.

Mov­ing the court to the Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter re­quires voter ap­proval be­cause state law re­quires county court fa­cil­i­ties to be lo­cated within the county seat, which in Ul­ster County is the city of Kingston.

Since 1988, the Ul­ster County Fam­ily Court has been in a former au­to­mo­tive and motorcycle re­pair shop rented from GD Re­alty Kingston LLC, which is part of Her­itage Oil De­liv­ery Ser­vice.

When the court moved into the Lu­cas Av­enue build­ing, county of­fi­cials lauded the new fa­cil­i­ties, which tripled the court’s space to 18,300 square feet from the 5,400 square feet it oc­cu­pied when Fam­ily Court was in the Ul­ster County Court­house on nearby Wall Street.

Less than a decade later, though, the state Office of Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan ex­press­ing con­cerns about the ad­e­quacy of the Lu­cas Av­enue build­ing to meet Fam­ily Court’s needs, and, in 2009, it threat­ened to sue the county to force up­grades to the fa­cil­ity.

In 2013, the Office of Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion asked to meet with the county to dis­cuss de­fi­cien­cies and be­gan in 2014 to pres­sure the county to ad­dress the de­fi­cient court fa­cil­i­ties, say­ing the Lu­cas Av­enue build­ing no longer com­plied with ju­di­ciary law that re­quires the county to “pro­vide and main­tain court fa­cil­i­ties that are suit­able and suf­fi­cient for the trans­ac­tion of the busi­ness of the court.”

The Office of Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion ramped up its pres­sure even more in 2015, af­ter the state Leg­is­la­ture added a third Fam­ily Court judge in Ul­ster County, al­low­ing the county to make tem­po­rary up­grades for that judge but mak­ing clear it felt the ex­ist­ing fa­cil­ity was “wholly in­ad­e­quate” for court op­er­a­tions.

Ul­ster County Ex­ec­u­tive Michael Hein’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in Septem­ber 2015 pre­sented to mem­bers of the county Leg­is­la­ture’s Ways and Means Com­mit­tee sev­eral op­tions for new sites for the Fam­ily Court build­ing, but com­mit­tee mem­bers, who balked at the price tags, said they wanted to meet with state of­fi­cials be­fore mak­ing any de­ci­sions.

At that meet­ing, held in De­cem­ber 2015, Wil­liam Clark, the coun­sel for cap­i­tal plan­ning for the Office of Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion, told mem­bers of the com­mit­tee that the state’s “pa­tience has just about run out,” and he warned that the office had the abil­ity to in­ter­cept state aid ear­marked for the county if of­fi­cials didn’t move for­ward

to ad­dress de­fi­cien­cies in the cur­rent fa­cil­ity and de­velop plans for a new, modern Fam­ily Court.

In June, over the ob­jec­tions of a hand­ful of leg­is­la­tors who op­posed mov­ing Fam­ily Court out of Kingston, the Leg­is­la­ture voted to put up the pro­posed move to the Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter up for pub­lic ap­proval.

Among those who op­posed the move was Leg­is­la­tor David Don­ald­son, D-Kingston, who ar­gued a study of po­ten­tial lo­ca­tions for the court failed to look at other sites within the city and was slanted to fa­vor the Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter.

The Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter is the pre­ferred lo­ca­tion of the Hein ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Leg­is­la­ture and the state Office of Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which called the site “uniquely suited to be de­vel­oped into a first-rate Fam­ily Court fa­cil­ity.

Don­ald­son and Leg­is­la­tor John Parete, D-Boiceville, sued the county in an at­tempt to have the word­ing of the propo­si­tion changed, say­ing the county had failed to prove the el­e­ments it was al­leg­ing in the bal­lot lan­guage, par­tic­u­larly that the move would re­duce the need to raise prop­erty taxes.

Ear­lier this month, a state Supreme Court jus­tice found the bal­lot lan­guage was “lead­ing” but that Don­ald­son and Parete had of­fered no proof it was “mis­lead­ing.”

FILE PHOTO BY TONY ADAMIS

The Ul­ster County Fam­ily Court build­ing is on Lu­cas Av­enue in Kingston.

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