VINELAND - City officials took more steps Tuesday in their revamping of the local Municipal Court.
City Council voted 5-0 to introduce an ordinance creating two part-time municipal court judges to replace John Kaspar, who retired as the city's prime, or full-time, municipal court judge in May.
Another ordinance introduced by a 5-0 vote establishes a salary range of $30,000 to $40,000 for the part-time judges.
City officials said the move will save taxpayers money, in part by not having to pay the part-time judges benefits. The move is also expected to improve Municipal Court scheduling, they said.
Kaspar's position is being filled by different judges in the vicinage, Municipal Court Administrator Donna Buckman said.
City Solicitor Richard Tonetta said the municipality is proceeding with the judge selection process. Whoever is selected will be appointed by Mayor Ruben Bermudez with the consent of City Council. The judges will be appointed to three-year terms.
Both ordinances will undergo second readings and public hearings Sept. 10.
City officials have targeted Municipal Court for a shakeup since the new administration took over in January. Officials said they wanted to make Municipal Court operations less expensive and more efficient.
One area targeted by City Council in April was the amount of overtime budgeted for local police officers for appearing in Municipal Court. The budget allocates $500,000 in overtime. City officials said part of the reason for the large amount is that police officers frequently get subpoenas to appear in Municipal Court, only to sit around for hours because the cases are not ready.
City officials have already cut one day from the number of days Municipal Court is in session each week. Cases are now heard on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Buckman said the change gives municipal court staff more time to review cases. That has resulted in better scheduling and, in some cases, prevented some defendants from making unnecessary court appearances, she said.
"We have two days (a week) without court to focus on what we need to do in here," Buckman said.
While the number varies by year, local officials said the city's Municipal Court handles about 28,000 cases annually.
More changes may be coming to the municipal court, including the possible hiring of a liaison between the Municipal Court and the Police Department.
That person, who city officials said earlier could be a retired police officer, could represent the city in certain basic court proceedings. That would prevent some local officials from having to spend time in Municipal Court, they said.
Buckman said she would welcome a liaison officer.
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