Consolidating courts saves more money than predicted
After consolidating 117 probate courts into 54 across the state, a new report shows the financial savings will exceed original predictions.
The report from the Probate Court Budget Committee states the consolidation has resulted in savings of $3.5 million which is 25 percent higher than what was initially predicted. As a result of the savings, the probate court system will end this year $2 million under budget and $5 million will be returned to the general fund, the report states.
Appropriations for the fiscal year 2011-2012 will be reduced from $11.5 million to $8.2 million. Those appropriations will then be reduced again for 2012-2013 to $7.3 million.
Included in the restructuring of the courts was an overhaul of the financial structure. Under the new structure, all expenses are handled from a single, system-wide budget, the report says.
Compensation, benefits, health insurance and pension eligibility were also standardized to help address previous financial issues.
Future improvements include digitizing all court records and moving some historical materials to the State Library to help to eliminate vault storage costs. Other improvements include legislation passed by the General Assembly which allow the courts to accept credit cards and to charge interest rates for overdue fees on estates.
New Canaan and Darien Probate Judge Mike Murray said he feels the probate system as a whole has become a lot more efficient due to the consolidation efforts.
"The system was 300 years old, so it was a little archaic. As a taxpayer it's a good thing they are saving so much money," he said.
Murray said making the transition to just one probate court for both towns was relatively easy but credited the lack of problems to the clerks, former probate judges and Darien First Selectman David Campbell and New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker.
"From my perspective the transition went much, much better than I could have hoped for thanks to the hard work of a lot of people," Murray said.
As far as complaints from people now having to travel to Darien, Murray said he hadn't heard anything. However, he did say he's heard a few people who have come to the court and said they weren't aware it had been moved.
In the report released by the Probate Court Budget Committee, one of the intentions of the consolidation was to maintain a high level of customer service. Murray said since the consolidation, the probate court is just as easy to use as it was before.
"At the end of the day the probate courts remain very user friendly," Murray said.
Darien and New Canaan were two towns selected to be included in the court merger. Initially the two towns would have been merged with other towns as well
But Walker petitioned the legislature to keep the court in either Darien or New Canaan. Darien was chosen as the location for the probate court because the town had a better facility, Walker told the New Canaan News in September.