County Approves Funding for Family Court

Ulster County is taking steps to serve the families of Ulster with the creation of an improved family court.

On Monday, Oct. 23, the Ulster County Legislature voted 17-1 for the approval of nearly $9 million in bonds to be used in the construction of a new Ulster County Family Court. The project will be the largest county funded construction project since the creation of the Law Enforcement Center in Kingston. 

The new Ulster County Family Court will be moved to the county-owned Ulster County Business Resource Center located in the Town of Ulster. Bonds approved by the Legislature, $7.96 million for the creation of the court and $1.08 million to repair the roof of the Business Resource Center will accompany a previously-approved $1.3 million for the architect and construction manager of the project.

The County’s current family court is located on Lucas Avenue in Kingston in a leased space. Plans to create a new court were generated due to the inadequacy of the current facilities and high costs for the space.

According to County Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk, the lease for the building is a triple net lease. This lease comes at a large expense to the County as they pay the lease fees, utilities and repairs and improvements to the building. Ronk said that maintaining the space no longer seemed feasible.

The inadequacies of the facility have also put State-based funding that the County receives at risk.

“Our family court has been in a less than ideal facility for many years,” Ronk said. “If we didn’t move the building to a more suitable location, [the State Office of Court Administration] could intercept grant funding that goes towards the court.”

Although grants from the State do not make up a majority of the court’s funding, their loss would create further financial burden for the County.

The new facilities do not only make sense financially, but will increase synergy in the County’s family court system. The new location will put the court in close proximity to the Department of Social Services, which works closely with the family court.

“The new facility is better for the children and families in Ulster County,” Ronk said. “It’s on bus routes and it’s near the Social Services Office. Quite frankly, it’ll be a more suitable building. We really shoehorned the court into the Lucas Avenue building.”

The contract for the project had been awarded to the Palumbo Group, which has previously worked with the County in the creation of the SUNY Ulster Annex in Kingston as part of Ulster County Executive Mike Hein’s Strategic Taxpayer Relief through Innovative Visions in Education (S.T.R.I.V.E) project. Ronk said he has full confidence in the Palumbo Group to aid the County in this new project.

The creation of the new court is part of Hein’s emphasized efforts to help families in the county. Most recently, Hein announced the month of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Ulster County.

“Domestic Violence Awareness Month shines a light on this difficult topic and it is an opportunity to let people know that there are resources available to help if they are in an abusive relationship,” Hein said in a press release issued on Oct. 4. “Domestic violence is a national epidemic and affects millions of people, including people right here in our community.”

Construction of the new Ulster County Family Court is expected to begin on Nov. 17 and is projected to be completed, with the court up and running, by Jan. 1, 2019. As a result, the court will remain at its current location on Lucas Avenue four months past the expiration of its lease. Though the project could be fast-tracked to avoid the extended lease, project managers have advised the County against such action, as it would only save $5,000 and create a stricter deadline for the completion of the project.