Southold Town moving forward with $6M bond for court space

A majority of Southold Town Board members will vote in favor of a $6 million bond to build a new town justice court in Peconic, board members said Tuesday.

The bond authorization, which is expected to be voted on March 15, would pass by a 4-2 margin, according to a poll of board members at the conclusion of a discussion at work session Tuesday. Town Supervisor Scott Russell and Councilman Greg Doroski said they will vote against the proposal.

Mr. Doroski said he believes the board is taking a piecemeal approach to solving its space crunch. Mr. Russell stated, as he has in recent work sessions, that he’d prefer to see the Town Board take a step back to figure out a “master plan” for reconfiguring its space.

The remaining Town Board members said they believe the time is now.

“We owe it to the town, to the people who work in the court system, to move on with this,” said Councilwoman Jill Doherty. “No matter what we do the court building is always going to be a separate action [from reorganizing other town offices], just by the nature of it.”

Town engineer Michael Collins said the town has studied the justice court issue over the past six years, spending more than $40,000. The town also previously bonded $5.5 million in 2018 to purchase and renovate the former Southold Savings Bank building to possibly be used as a justice court. Now that space and the existing Southold Town Hall will likely be remodeled to accommodate all other town offices with court staff moving to the proposed new building behind the Peconic Lane Community Center.

Mr. Doroski said that in his first two months as a Town Board member he hasn’t seen any evidence of the work that has been done in the past to study the town’s spatial issues, being forced instead to rely on anecdotal evidence. While he said he understands a majority of his colleagues are for the proposal, he couldn’t support it now not knowing what the next steps will be.

Ms. Doherty said by moving ahead with the new court building the town can now work toward a “master plan” for the rest of the work that needs to be done. Despite not supporting the pending resolution, Mr. Russell agreed the town needs to be working along “two parallel paths,” seeing the court as a separate space since everything else they’ve considered “fell short.” 

Councilman Brian Mealy said he’ll vote yes on moving ahead with the new court now since he views it as a matter of public safety. Currently criminal arraignments and other court proceedings take place in the same space as most other public meetings.

“To me, this is couched in safety,” he said. “I want the judges to be safe. I want the support staff to be safe. I think the court officers have to be safe. Safety first.”

Councilwoman Sarah Nappa agreed with that direction, but said she thinks the town still needs to take a closer look at what the needs are for the court building, saying what’s been discussed may have a larger footprint than what is ultimately necessary.

The town considered moving ahead with a vote on the bond authorization at its regular meeting Tuesday, but will instead schedule a resolution for March 15 on the advice of the town attorney and comptroller’s offices.