$6M bond planned to fund construction of Southold Town Justice Court

The Southold Town Board has set a 30-day timeline to finalize the location of a new Justice Court. 

At a town work session Tuesday, Town Board members wavered on building the court behind the Peconic Community Center after the town recreation supervisor criticized the selection.

“You’re taking the only fields we have in this area and possibly converting them to a courthouse,” recreation supervisor Janet Douglass said after raising her hand on Zoom. 

She pointed out that the field used to host the soccer club, which has not been meeting due to the pandemic. She also said a nonprofit is looking to use fields in Peconic, and Cochran Park doesn’t have enough to accommodate them. 

Supervisor Scott Russell, who strongly criticized the choice at the previous town work session, had continued to resist the location throughout the discussion, although he said he agrees the court needs to be separate from other municipal projects. 

“With regard to the town hall and everything else, personally, let’s go back to what I suggested. Put a community group together,” he said. “They can help us with an infrastructure analysis on everything.”

The area behind the community center. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

The Town Board intends to authorize a $6 million bond, the estimated cost to build a new court building, after a location is set. The money would be borrowed as needed. The bond would not cover the costs of a land purchase. 

Town comptroller Kristie Hansen-Hightower said the option could mean raising property taxes 1-1.4% over the next few years. Otherwise, the town can initially authorize a $500,000 bond to fund the design portion, or “soft costs,” of the project.

Ms. Hansen-Hightower said, however, that state law limits the town from authorizing construction for another year after issuing the bond.

“Which means that if we authorize the $500,000 now and then we issue every September, so you wouldn’t be able to even authorize the construction until September 2023,” she said. “Normally that year is not that big of an issue in government because it takes a long time to build. So the other option is just to do a bond authorization all in for the estimated construction costs.” 

The Town Board has favored building the justice court on Peconic Lane — a much cheaper alternative to renovating the town hall annex — because it’s land already owned by the town and central to Southold Town. Other reasons for choosing that property have included its proximity to the police department and a bus stop. 

“This was the most sensible and fiscally responsible spot,” Town Board member Jill Doherty said.