One week before voters will be asked to approve a plan to shift Ulster County Family Court from its current location in Uptown Kingston to a vacant county-owned parcel just outside city limits, Kingston lawmakers called for a “no” vote on the plan.
On Tuesday, the Kingston Common Council voted unanimously to approve the memorializing resolution in opposition to the plan. The proposal, approved by the county legislature and backed by county executive Mike Hein, calls for moving Family Court from its current location at 16 Lucas Avenue to the vacant Business Resource Center at One Development Court just over the city line in the Town of Ulster. The State’s Office of Court Administration has ordered the county to expand its family-court facility. The move needs voter approval to waive a rule that court facilities must be located within the county seat of Kingston.
Backers of the move say that the BRC plan, expected to cost between $10 and $13 million, offers the cheapest and most convenient means to comply with the state mandate. But opponents say the county never gave due consideration to alternatives that would have kept the court Uptown.
In particular, opponents have seized on a 2014 proposal by architect Scott Dutton that would have sold the current facility to the county for an estimated $6 million and renovated ot in accordance with state OCA guidelines. Known to Hein administration officials, that option apparently never shared with county lawmakers. Two Democratic legislators, Dave Donaldson and John Parete, say they learned of Dutton’s plan in the course of an unsuccessful effort to change the wording of the ballot proposition.
Legislative chairman Ken Ronk and deputy county executive Bob Sudlow argued that Dutton’s proposal was insufficient, because it would not have expanded the footprint of the facility. He also said the cost estimates for the proposal did not account for prevailing-wage labor rules for government construction projects in New York State.
On Tuesday, Kingston city lawmakers claimed that moving the court outside the city would set a “bad precedent.” The resolution also references Dutton’s plan, reading in part, “The county based its decision on a faulty feasibility study, ignored the far lower cost of buying and renovating the current building and failed to consider viable relocation alternatives within the City of Kingston.” Mayor Steve Noble signed the resolution and issued a statement of his own opposing the ballot measure. Noble said that facilities like the court served as “anchors” providing the city with “a vibrant urban core.” He expressed concern about further decentralization of government services.