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March 11. 2013 11:22PM

Nashua mayor: Don't consolidate county courts

NASHUA - Standing before the House Finance Committee on Monday, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau urged the board to reject a proposal that would consolidate two superior courts in Hillsborough County.

The idea, floated as a way to possibly save about $500,000 a year in the state budget, is not a wise suggestion, according to Lozeau, who spoke during a public hearing on the governor's proposed budget on Monday at Nashua Community College.

"This justice needs to be here," she told the committee, arguing Nashua should not be chasing court hearings in another community.

A subcommittee is recommending the evaluation of a proposal to move superior court trials now held at Hillsborough County Superior Court South in Nashua to Hillsborough County Superior Court North in Manchester.

"These are difficult economic times," Lozeau told the panel, saying Nashua recently consolidated its 9th Circuit Court with its superior court in order to save the state some money. "Manchester could do the same."

Rather than building a new superior courthouse in Manchester, Lozeau said the city could have saved that money and instead joined its district and superior court operations like Nashua.

"Why wouldn't they do the same thing?" Lozeau said afterwards, elaborating on her comments before the committee.

She said the Nashua courthouse has enough room to accommodate superior court trials from Manchester if it is willing to come to the Gate City. Still, she said neither courthouse should close nor consolidate with the other.

While Chief Justice Linda Dalianis would eventually like to see the court operations in a single location, Lozeau said that is not necessarily how justice should be delivered.

"Nashua has accommodated (both) superior courts already. We have gone out of our way to accommodate the court system," said Lozeau. She said that when the Hillsborough County Superior Court North was being renovated, its operations moved into the Nashua courthouse on Spring Street.

Even with the new courthouse in Manchester, Lozeau said Nashua could still handle both superior courts better than the Queen City.

"It is sad we have to fight the same fight each year," she said.

State Rep. David Campbell of Nashua agreed, saying there was a lot of opposition to a similar proposal last year.

In 2012, legislation was drafted that would have consolidated Hillsborough County Superior Court South in Nashua with Hillsborough County Superior Court North in Manchester.

According to the proposed bill, House Bill 1655, all Hillsborough County Superior Court operations would have been housed at a single site - Manchester's courthouse on Chestnut Street that previously underwent $15.6 million in renovations - although the legislation never moved forward.

"I am hopeful that the full Finance Committee will abandon the idea as well," Campbell told the board.

When asked by a committee member whether the $80 million in budget cuts should be found by eliminating services for those individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health issues, or found by consolidating the superior courts, Campbell said he doesn't envy the committee's responsibility.

"But this is important to Nashua," Campbell said, adding that while people obviously come first, he believes the problem can somehow be worked out appropriately.

State Rep. Sylvia Gale agreed, maintaining Nashua serves many more communities.

"It should not be merged with Hillsborough North," Gale told the committee.

In addition to the court discussion, dozens of people spoke in favor of keeping Gov. Maggie Hassan's $80 million in gaming licensing fees in the state budget, which would provide additional funds for the mental health system and developmental disability services, and increases in higher education.

khoughton@newstote.com

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