SHREWSBURY — The chairman of the Two River Council of Mayors believes that establishing a regional court complex on a site formerly part of Fort Monmouth could result in significant savings for two river towns.
Eatontown Mayor Gerald J. Tarantolo, who chairs the council, proposed the idea of consolodating as many as 10 local municipal courts in a now vacant building that his borough is hoping to obtain from the Department of Defense.
“This, hopefully, would save money for the municipalities that are involved,” he said at a meeting of the mayors council in Shrewsbury last Thursday.
Eatontown has petitioned the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) to obtain Mallette Hall, an approximately 57,000 square foot facility on what had been the main post. That location has an auditorium with seating for 600 and an amphitheater with seating for 900.
Eatontown has asked for the building for $1, and if it gets it, the structure would be large enough to accommodate Eatontown’s needs for a 30,000 square-foot municipal building, and a regional municipal court for up to 10 area towns, according to Tarantolo.
The size and location would seem to make the location ideal, given its proximity to Highway 35 and to FMERA’s proposed Eatontown town. “There’s a lot of parking there, there’s easy access,” he said.
Operating a municipal court is an expensive proposition when factoring in salaries for judges, prosecutors, public defenders and staff. Compounding that cost, Tarantolo explained, are mandates from the New Jersey Judiciary requiring upgrades in security, like metal detectors, and other requirements, which would cost each town as much as an additional $50,000.
The idea of regionalizing municipal courts for cost savings is not a new one, as Sea Bright currently uses Oceanport’s, West Long Branch relies on Ocean Township and Shrewsbury Township uses Red Bank’s court, Tarantolo noted.
The proposal to regional on this scale requires that succeed in obtaining the building for a dollar, the mayor said. He has sent a letter of intent to the Fort Monmouth authority requesting that and has lobbied the authority’s real estate committee.
As Eatontown sees it, the mayor said, the town has been responsible for educating the children of military personnel since the 1950s and the amount the DOD reimbursed the town never kept pace with the actual per pupil costs. Tarantolo estimated that his town paid $28 million from 1995-2009 for those public school costs. “My claim is that Eatontown has already purchased that building,” he said.
Tarantolo raised the idea at a Two River Council of Mayors meeting a few years ago and the response, “wasn’t negative.”
FMERA should notify the borough if it will get Mallette Hall in a couple of months, Tarantolo said.
Tarantolo, as one of the three Fort Monmouth host communities, serves on FMERA, along with the mayors of Tinton Falls and Oceanport.
The Two River Council of Mayors consists of approximately 13 mayors and a representative from Fort Monmouth, who meet monthly for most of the year to discuss matters concerning the area.