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Carefree/Cave Creek Municipal Court consolidation a go

Interim town Magistrate Lawrence Scaringelli told Cave Creek Town Council the budget numbers for the court didn't add up.
Interim town Magistrate Lawrence Scaringelli told Cave Creek Town Council the budget numbers for the court didn't add up.Linda Bentley

CAVE CREEK - Following Carefree’s meeting earlier in the evening during which council unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between Carefree and Cave Creek to consolidate the two municipal courts, Cave Creek Finance Director Robert Weddigen presented the details of the IGA.

He said Carefree would operate the court which would be housed in Cave Creek’s council chambers, as it is presently, but would require tenant improvements of approximately $60,000 to be paid from the court enhancement fees.

Weddigen said Carefree’s FY 2014 budget for court reflected $328,118 in gross expenditures and $115,000 in revenue for an operating loss of $213,118.

He said Cave Creek’s FY 2014 court budget reflected gross expenditures of $400,300 and $66,000 in revenue for an operating loss of $334,300.

Carefree handles approximately 940 cases per year while Cave Creek handles slightly more at 1,000.

The IGA is for a 10-year period of time and Cave Creek would pay Carefree $146,196 per year for up to 1,000 cases and $78 per case over 1,000.

For the first 24 months of the agreement Cave Creek would pay an additional $2,666.66 per month as a transition fee making the cost per year for the first two years bringing the town’s cost to $178,196 for the first two years.

Addressing questions about the large discrepancy in numbers, Interim Town Manager Rodney Glassman said the town’s costs were based on the budget, not on actual, because, according to Glassman, the court is not fully staffed.

He also said the presiding judge will still need to approve the consolidation.

Councilman Ernie Bunch questioned where the figures came from showing such a large discrepancy in revenue between the two courts despite the case loads being similar.

Glassman said they came from the Administrative Office of the Court (AOC).

Carefree Mayor David Schwan told the town the IGA should result in cost savings to both towns.

Attorney Frederick Davidson, a Cave Creek resident, told the town the consolidation was ill-conceived to save money or solve staffing problems.

He said the Cave Creek Court has been sustainable for 25 years and the budget of $400,300 “is clearly not based on history.”

Suggesting it was not the time to do this, Davidson asked that the town vote against the IGA and carefully look at the numbers.

The town’s Interim Presiding Judge Lawrence Scaringelli said, “No one came to the court to ask us for numbers” and stated, “The numbers don’t add up.”

He said the budget was based on the previous magistrate, who wanted to have a full-time position with benefits but which he said the town doesn’t need.

Scaringelli said he has been working with the AOC to correct some concerns, most of which he said were already corrected.

He said, “I want you to make a decision based on facts, not these numbers,” and offered to resign.

Vice Mayor Adam Trenk asked Weddigen to address the discrepancies between his numbers and the ones Scaringelli passed out to council.

Weddigen said there were other costs associated with the court that were in other department budgets.

However, Scaringelli elaborated and said even if you add those costs back in it didn’t add up.

He said, “Council should know the numbers before making a decision.

During public comment, Janet Mohr spoke about how the two towns have such different ideologies and the marriage between the two seemed like a “scary” thing.

David Smith said the issue came before the budget committee and the increased budget was due to staffing mandates.

Everett Bell said he was bothered on the issue as with council's previous discussion regarding Glassman’s salary, stating, “We didn’t have the numbers right.”

He asked council to take the time and listen to what citizens were bringing to their attention.

Bruce Arlen said when he first heard about combining the courts he thought it was a good idea, but in light of the magistrate being willing to resign over the disparity in numbers, council might want to look into it a little further.

Jay Williams cautioned council that a budget is not an actual expenditure.

Scott Dahne said, “This needs to be pushed off. No decision needs to be made tonight.”

Glassman said, “Based on the 2013/2014 budget, this IGA would provide savings to the town.”

Town Attorney Fredda Bisman told council all the courts operate under the Arizona Supreme Court and the AOC is the administrative arm. She said the IGA has a 10-year term with provisions for renewing as well as for terminating.

Councilman Charles Spitzer moved to approve the IGA and said, “I think it’s a great idea.”

Councilman Thomas McGuire seconded the motion and said, “We have had a period of unrest in our court.”

Councilman Mike Durkin said he had been engaged with the town manager on the issue and had faith in what was presented. He said the $178,000 per year was financially a good deal and he was “absolutely for this.”

Councilman Reg Monachino said they went over the numbers exhaustively during the budget committee.

Councilman Ernie Bunch said, “From the comments, it looks like we’re going to pass this thing to find out what’s in it.”

He stated Carefree has the sheriff’s office monitor motorcycle noise on weekends and writes citations. Bunch noted with the consolidated courts, bikers will be going to Cave Creek to deal with their tickets. He said it would cost the town revenue in lost business of people not wanting to come to Cave Creek.

Trenk said he had the complete opposite opinion and said it was a good opportunity to capitalize on the efficiencies of the court.

Mayor Vincent Francia said, “Council depends on staff to provide us with data. I do have some reservations about this agreement, but they are minor.”

He also said it was a “wonderful opportunity” to mend relations with Carefree.

Council voted 6-1 to approve the IGA with Bunch, who voted “absolutely not,” dissenting.