BERNARDS TWP., NJ -- Judge Katherine Howes took the gavel last week as Bernards municipal judge, officials said, and immediately afterwards the Bernards Township Committee raised the question of whether it might save taxpayers money to merge Bernards Township's municipal court operations with Bedminster Township.

Howes also is municipal court judge in nearby Bedminster Township, which also has a shared services agreement with Bernardsville and Peapack-Gladstone boroughs.

The four Township Committee members who were present at Tuesday's meeting threw tentative support behind the idea.

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Township Committeewoman Joan Harris said she feels the township should investigate the details of the proposal if it might save substantial funds for taxpayers.

In voting whether the township should look closer at sharing a court with Bedminster, Township Committeeman Joseph Esposito said officials are "obligated" to consider the potential money-saving proposal. 

Municipal court operations centered in Bedminster Township, serves much of Somerset Hills

Bedminster is the lead agency for the municipal court, and would host Bernards Township municipal court cases if the idea is approved, said Sean McCarthy, Chief Financial Officer for the municipality.

The township's staff was directed at Tuesday's meeting to begin exploring shared service feasibility and potential costs savings. "We have just begun to evaluate our current costs and are working on good estimate of what it might cost for Bernards to join the existing shared court," McCarthy said in an email later in the week. "At this point it would be to early to say what those costs might be"

At this point, McCarthy said, the total amount budgeted for Bernards Township Municipal Court costs in 2019 is $350,000. "The proposal would be for Bernards [Township] to join the existing Bedminster/Peapack Gladstone/Bernardsville shared court currently hosted by Bedminster, he said.

Once the township staff has completed its evaluation, the data will be provided to the Township Committee for review, McCarthy said.

Mayor Carol Bianchi and Deputy Mayor James Baldassare, Jr. also voted in favor of investigating the possibility of a shared services court agreement.