BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ The Bernards Township Committee this week gave approval to officially work out the details while considering whether the township's municipal court should merge with Bedminster Township, where the combined court system would be based.

Township Administrator Pat Monaco said on Tuesday that the Township Committee's approval will allow him to "drill down" on the specifics of how the possible court merger would operate.

The governing body first discussed the idea in March after appointing Judge Katherine Howes as the township's municipal judge. Howes already is municipal judge in Bedminster, which already shares a court arrangement with Bernardsville and Peapack-Gladstone Borough

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

Community service program would continue to operate out of Bernards 

Township officials stressed at this past Tuesday's meeting that Bernards Township's own long-established and successful community service program will continue under the direction of Bernards, which would operate the program independently of the municipal court system, even if the merger is eventually approved.

The Township Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to further explore the proposal.Following the vote, Monaco said the next step is to set up some more formal fact-finding meetings with Bedminster. He said he already has conducted informal discussions with the neighboring Somerset Hills municipality.

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 Bernards Township, said in March.

"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 a few days after the March meeting, adding that it was too early at that point to say what those costs might be.

The total amount budgeted for Bernards Township Municipal Court costs in 2019 is $350,000, McCarthy said in late March. The township had previously upgraded the meeting room following Superstorm Sandy to serve as a municipal court, meeting room and a command center during such community-wide disasters such as Sandy in 2012.

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