COURT SHARING SPARKS DEBATE

sb-oport-sign1Sea Bright officials dispute how well a new shared service with Oceanport is working out. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

There areĀ  two ways Sea Bright officials describe one of its latest shared services agreements with a nearby town: just fine and a nightmare.

Nearly six months into an agreement to have Oceanport provide municipal court services for the borough, there’s a divide on the council whether it’s really working. Councilman Read Murphy says no. Mayor Maria Fernandes says yes.

“Nobody’s happy over there,” Murphy said.”People think it’s a joke.”

Murphy, who initially voted against the outsourcing, said he makes that characterization after speaking with employees of both boroughs, although he says none of them would come out publicly to decry the agreement.

“You call over there and they’ll say everything is hunky-dory,” Murphy said. But in reality, he says, it’s anything but.

Sea Bright moved to farm out its court operations, for $70,000 a year, late last year. The agreement officially started in March, three months after its set start date. Since then, Murphy says, service has been slow; Sea Bright has taken longer than usual to move its caseload to Oceanport, and as a result there’s a delay in adjudicating matters. Having officers spend off-duty time in court is running up the overtime budget, he added.

Now that it’s the busy time of the year, Murphy says the overtime budget will likely get sapped.

“We’re almost out of overtime money,” he said. “The mayor wants us there. We went over there to save us money, but it’s a nightmare.”

Fernandes contends there’s enough money set aside in the budget to cover police overtime, though she didn’t have any specific numbers available.

She also says that the busy time of the year won’t last much longer.

“Of course there’s a lot of activity there, but in another month or so, it’ll all die down,” Fernandes said.

And, she says, reports from employees come back positive.

“I called over there. Everybody seems happy,” she said. As for Murphy’s account, Fernandes said, “I don’t know what that comes from.”

Fernandes says Murphy is using hyperbole to represent the court agreement.

“I’m not going to rattle that cage because as far as I’m concerned it’s working,” she said.

Murphy, though, would like to see the court return to Sea Bright in January, when the contract with Oceanport expires.