ANCRAM—The total number of cases in Town Court was up 36% in 2016 over the year before and the revenue those cases generated for the town was up nearly as much.
Ruth Wittlinger, Ancram court clerk since 2000, presented the year end 2016 Town Court report to the Town Board at its January 19 meeting. Three hundred eighty-three cases came before Town Justices George Wittlinger and Robert Wilcox last year as compared to 282, 101 less, in 2015.
The total money generated by court cases and reported to the state Comptroller’s Office last year was $41,582. In 2015, that amount was $28,285.
The town gets to keep just 51% of the total money collected or $21,135 in 2016 as compared to $15,703 in 2015, an increase of 35%.
Mrs. Wittlinger said $3,700 in fines owed was carried over from last year.
She noted an increase in the number of tickets written per traffic stop. She said a driver stopped for a broken tail light is more likely to end up with multiple tickets such as for having no inspection or no license, as well.
The vast majority of cases, 347, were for Vehicle and Traffic (V &T) Law violations in 2016, with penal law violations a distant second at 23; Civil and Environmental Conservation cases tied at 6 apiece and 1 violation of town or local law. V&T violations have led as the kind of cases heard most in town court since 1998, which is as far back as the data in the 2016 report goes.
Overall, Mrs. Wittlinger told the board there are 300 old tickets dating back to 1980 still on file, which she and Deputy Court Clerk Colleen Lutz continue to try to resolve.
Mrs. Wittlinger said that although mandatory training for court clerks is not as much as for justices, clerks “need to know more than the judge.”
Clerks are responsible for court record keeping including documents dealing with finances, the Department of Motor Vehicles and rap sheets. The judge has to sign off on the clerk’s work, but the clerk has to know what form to fill out in the first place, she said.
When asked for his take on higher case numbers, Justice Wilcox said by phone this week, it’s all relative.
He said the increase may be due to just 50 more tickets being written. But in Ancram’s case where there are few cases, “a small number sticks out.” In towns that handle a greater volume of cases such as Chatham or Colonie, which handles as many cases in a week as Ancram does in a year, 50 tickets would disappear in the rounding, he said. “Small numbers are more volatile.”
Administrative shift changes at the Sheriff’s Office, which cause more or less patrols at different times of day, could be the reason for the increase in tickets, though he’s not sure anyone should read a lot into it.
The judge said case numbers have been higher, pointing to 2006 and 2005 when the totals were 486 and 480 respectively. He noted that at that time the town had an “aggressive, assertive” resident deputy, who was “serious” about ticket writing.
What he called “the real outlier” in the report is the dip in total cases to 209 in 2013. The number of cases had been 311 in 2012. The decrease of more than 100 cases, Judge Wilcox said, “that’s a change that’s big enough to make me scratch my head.”
State police are responsible for writing about 40% of the tickets that end up returnable in Ancram Court, and though he has no formal analysis to point to, anecdotally, he thinks state Route 22 is the road where the most tickets are written in town.
“It’s straight, has a great surface, wide shoulders, beautiful scenery and to find yourself going 65 mph instead of 55 isn’t hard.”
Court report trends definitely have “a rhythm” to them, he said. Court activity is driven by traffic tickets, which peaked in 2004 to 2006. For Judge Wilcox, highs and lows get his attention but beg the questions of where the volatility comes from and does it matter?
In other business the Town Board:
• Heard that the town’s Climate Smart Communities Task Force conducted its first meeting under new Chair Doug Brenner and is working on actions the town can take to reduce energy use and save money. When a certain number of actions are completed, the town will qualify for a pool of Clean Energy funding
• Had a long discussion with Highway Superintendent Jim Miller about the sad shape (muddy, rutty and potholed) dirt roads are in this year and the pros and cons of paving them
• Heard from Supervisor Art Bassin that the total number of mice at Town Hall that have now met their demise at his hands is six.
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