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Mansfield Considers Judicial Merger

By Jann Wiswall

Discussion about short- and long-term options regarding the town justice position in Mansfield continued during the board’s meeting on Monday, Feb. 16.

The first task following Mansfield Justice Randy Alexander’s resignation on Dec. 31 was for the state’s administrative judge to assign an acting justice through April 30, 2015. East Otto Town Justice Dennis Young was tapped for that role.

The next steps for the board are to: 1) appoint a temporary judge for the period of May 1-Dec. 31, 2015; 2) hold an election in November 2015 for a judge to serve out the last two years of Alexander’s four-year term, and 3) study the pros and cons of merging Mansfield’s judiciary with another municipality for the long term.

The appointment of a temporary judge will be made by the board at its March 16 meeting. Two town residents have expressed interest in the position to date: current town board member Greg Meyer and current court clerk Dale Baldwin. Other interested applicants are invited to contact Town Supervisor Bob Keis for information by March 13.

If appointed, Meyer would be required to resign his town board position. Baldwin, if appointed, said he would serve as his own court clerk. He also stated that he is not interested in continuing as court clerk if he is not appointed.

The temporary judge and any other individuals interested in the post will then be able to run for the two-year position in November during the general election.

These steps take care of the short term.

Step three addresses the long-term needs of the town and answers the question: Should Mansfield abolish its town court and merge its judiciary with an adjacent municipality for cost savings and other reasons?

The Town of Ellicottville is the only municipality being considered for a merger.

Supervisor Keis reported that the town attorney has provided information about the process, which begins with a joint study that must be commissioned by both municipalities. However, Ellicottville has not yet discussed the prospect at the board level.

If Ellicottville is interested in a merger and agrees to the study, additional steps (including public hearings in both municipalities) would be required depending on the results and each board’s direction. The process could take as much as a year to complete and would not go into effect for a year or more after that.

In other business, Keis reported that all paperwork has been finalized between Mansfield and the Town of Ellicottville for administration, management and operation of water service at HoliMont’s WestMont Ridge development. And, the agreement between Mansfield and the Village of Ellicottville has been completed to authorize the village to manage sewer service there.

Keis also reported that Mansfield has received all expected payments from FEMA and the state from the town’s applications for storm damage recovery. The total received is roughly $393,000. These funds will reimburse the town for road repairs already made and for repairs that will begin this year.

Finally, Keis reported that the town attorney has prepared paperwork for the highway department to use with logging companies that requires them to obtain bonds through their insurance companies to protect the town from road damage caused by the industry’s heavy equipment. The bonding amounts will be determined by the highway superintendent.

The next meeting of the Mansfield board will be held on Monday, March 16 at 7 p.m. in the town hall. All are welcome.

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