Proposed court relocation awaits voters’ verdict
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.”
The Ulster County Family Court building is on Lucas Avenue in Kingston.