Minutes: April 13, 2020

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this council meeting was held via a Zoom Webinar.

The special meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 7:00 p.m. on April 13, 2020 via Zoom Webinar in the Vernon Municipal Center, 21 Church Street, Vernon, New Jersey with Council President Harry Shortway presiding.

Statement of Compliance

Adequate notice of this meeting had been provided to the public and the press on January 7, 2020 and was posted on the bulletin board in the Municipal Building in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-7.

Roll Call

Present were Council Members John Auberger, Jean Murphy, Mark Van Tassel, Kelley Weller and Council President Shortway. Also present were Mayor Howard Burrell, Business Administrator Charles Voelker and CFO Donelle Bright and Township Attorney Marlin Holmes.

Salute to the Flag

Council President Shortway led the assemblage in the salute to the flag.

Council President Shortway asked for a moment of silence for all of those who have fallen victim to Covid-19.

Proclamation

Office of Emergency Management Proclamation of Local Emergency 2020-01 Addendum No. 2

Mayor Burrell explained that this proclamation restricts Air B&Bs, other online markets, and any other organizations or individuals from arranging or offering any short term rentals in Vernon Township.

Public Comments (For Current Agenda Items Only, Limited to 3 minutes per person)

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to open the meeting for public comments.
Motion: Kelly Weller
Second: Mark Van Tassel
All members were in favor.

Seeing no members of the public wishing to speak, Council President Shortway asked for a motion to close the meeting for public comments.
Motion: John Auberger
Second: Kelly Weller
All members were in favor.

Minutes

March 30, 2020 Special Budget Meeting

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve the above meeting minutes.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
NAYS:
ABSTAIN:
ABSENT:
Motion carried to approve the March 30, 2020 Special Budget Meeting Minutes.

Consent Agenda

  1. Resolution #20-109: Resolution Authorizing the Hiring of an Assessment Firm for Annual Ongoing Reassessment Program through the Competitive Contracting Process
  2. Resolution #20-110: Authorize the Extension of Award of an Auto Supply Contract to H&H Auto Parts, Bid 4-2018

Council President Shortway read the titles of the resolutions.

Council Member Auberger asked if resolution #20-111 could be removed and voted on separately.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve the consent agenda.
Moved: Jean Murphy
Second: Kelly Weller

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
NAYS:
ABSTAIN:
ABSENT:
Motion carried to approve the consent agenda.

Resolution #20-109: Resolution Authorizing the Hiring of an Assessment Firm for Annual Ongoing Reassessment Program through the Competitive Contracting Process

WHEREAS, the Township has a desire to provide for efficient ongoing reassessment program through a qualified Assessment Firm in accord with N.J.S.A. 54:4-1 et seq., and

WHEREAS, such services are currently available to be provided through the competitive contracting process under the New Jersey Local Publics Contract Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:11-4.1(a).; and

WHEREAS, the Township desires to evaluate such assessment firms based upon Price and Other Factors in accord with the competitive contract process as set forth in the New Jersey Local Publics Contract Law (N.J.S.A.40A:11-4.1 et. seq. and N.J.A.C. 5:34-4 et seq.); and

WHEREAS, the Township desires to enter into a contract for up to a five (5) year contract that will satisfy the needs of the Township and in accord with N.J.S.A 40A:11-4.1; and

WHEREAS, as per statute the process will be administered by the Qualified Purchasing Agent (N.J.S.A 40A:11-4.5(d)); and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Governing Body of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, as follows:

The Qualified Purchasing Agent is hereby authorized to commence the competitive contract/ procurement as allowable under the New Jersey Local Publics Contract Law for a qualified assessment firm for the ongoing reassessment program, allowing for a minimum of 20 days’ notice after advertisement to receive responses, per Local Publics Contract Law.

Resolution 20-110: Authorize the Extension of Award of an Auto Supply Contract to H&H Auto Parts, Bid 4-2018

WHEREAS, there is a need for auto parts supply in accord with the New Jersey Local Publics Contract Law for the Township of Vernon; and

WHEREAS, the Township of Vernon received bids for auto parts supply under bid 4-2018 duly advertised and received in a public manner on February 22, 2018 at 11:00am; and

WHEREAS, H&H auto Parts 287 Route 94, Vernon, N.J. has provided for the lowest bid deemed responsive and responsible to the specifications and legal requirements as provided for within the bid document; and

WHEREAS, the purchasing agent has concurred with the legality of the purchase in accord with the New Jersey Local Publics Contract Law (N.J.S..40A:11-1 et seq.); and

WHEREAS, the Township desires to extend the contract pricing as per N.J.S.A. 40A:11-15, for a two (2) year period; and

WHEREAS, the Chief Financial Officer hereby certifies that funds NOT TO EXCEED $34,000.00 are available as follows;

CERTIFICATION OF FUNDS
Line Item: Y-01-26-316-20
NOT TO EXCEED $34,000.00
CFO Signature: ______________________________

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Mayor and Council of the Township of Vernon authorizes the Business Administrator to enter into a contract with H&H Auto Parts not to exceed $34,000.00 for the 2020-2022 budget years for Auto Parts Supply in accord with the tenets of contract found within Bid 4-2018 for a two (2) year contract.

Resolution #20-111: Approving Active Volunteer Fireman for Membership in the New Jersey State Fireman’s Association (Gill)

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-111. Moved: Mark Van Tassel
Second: Jean Murphy

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
NAYS:
ABSTAIN: Auberger
ABSENT:
Motion carried to approve resolution #20-111

Resolution #20-111: Approving Active Volunteer Fireman for Membership in the New Jersey State Fireman’s Association (Gill)

WHEREAS, the Township Council recognizes the extraordinary contributions made by volunteer firefighters to our community and seeks to encourage their full participation in professional organizations; and

WHEREAS, Kevin J. Gill, an active firefighter and member of the Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department #1, is requesting approval to submit an application for membership to the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Township Council of the Township of Vernon, Sussex County, New Jersey hereby approves Kevin J. Gill for membership in the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association.

Public Hearing/2nd Reading of Ordinances

Ordinance #20-09: Ordinance of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, Creating Chapter 476 of the Municipal Code of the Township of Vernon Entitled “Short-Term Rentals”

Council President Shortway read by title Ordinance #20-09.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to open public hearing for Ordinance #20-09.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel
All members were in favor.

Council Member Murphy mentioned an email Council President Shortway sent out recently addressing a resident who was advertising a short term rental in Highland Lakes. Council Member Murphy commented that if the 2018 Short Term Rental Ordinance was so important it should have been on the January 1, 2020 agenda. Council Member Murphy feels that because she is a real estate agent and also because there are other real estate agents in town, Council President Shortway can just make a phone call to find out where the short term rentals are located. She feels that saying we do not know where the rentals are whether short term or long term is not a true statement. Council Member Murphy asked if anyone contacted Air B&B of any other short term rental companies to notify them of the short term rental ban.

Council President Shortway commented saying that law and public opinion recognize protection of health and safety are a core government function and when there are clear means to prevent substantial harms, government has a responsibility to act.

Unintended consequences, cited as actions (or inactions) of people-and especially of government-always have unanticipated effects.

None of us saw the pandemic coming two years ago, nor could we. Our current situation highlights why the STR ordinances are so important. In June of 2018 the Council was advised the intention of the Regulatory Ordinance is to create a set of initial regulations which can be revised in future for the operations of Short Term Rentals (STRs), including rental of rooms or entire homes and what qualifies. The regulatory STR Ordinance would create a procedure whereby a house is inspected, a certificate of occupancy is issued, and units require registration, so the Township is aware of current rentals and contact information of owners/renters.

Council President Murphy noted at that time, Highland Lakes Association has been collecting information from those rentals within their community but will not share the information with the Township.

Had the ordinances been adopted as requested in 2018, we would be able to identify STR locations and monitor the properties, fire code inspections would be conducted and revenue to support recreation and cultural amenities would have been collected.

Several weeks ago, a resident following the STR issue advised me he/she felt Highland Lakes management was being less than truthful regarding STRs by not being transparent because they did not inform us of their STR policies. The person directed me to the Highland Lakes website to review their by-laws. Their claim was supported by what I read.

Highland Lakes Community registers and collects additional fees from STR hosts in their community. This information was never volunteered by any officer of the Highland Lakes Country Club and Community Association. Although we met, engaged in several conversations, e-mails and Mr. McLaughlin spoke before the governing body and Land Use Board.

On or about February 26, 2020, I discussed STR issues with AirBnB and advised that almost all their listed STRs are operating contrary to NJ State Fire Codes.

Mayor Burrell Restricted Airbnb, Other Online Marketplaces, And Any Other Organization or Individual from Arranging or Offering Short-Term Rental Lodging in Vernon Township on April 6, 2020 in response to NJSP Colonel Callahan’s Executive Order # 2020-8. Such Order states that a mayor has the authority to restrict Airbnb, other online marketplaces, and any other organization or individual from arranging or offering short-term rental lodging in their town after the effective date/time of his/her State of Emergency notification.

On April 7, 2020, I sent the following to Mayor Burrell;

Highland Lakes per their by-laws allow short term rentals.

I respectfully ask that your office request the Highland Lakes STR list due to the pandemic and State of Emergency declarations and orders. Mayor Burrell, requested the list from Highland Lakes Management.

On April 10, Mayor Burrell received the following from Mr. McLaughlin:

Howard:

As I indicated in our telephone discussion, Highland Lakes will be monitoring known properties used as short-term rentals, and will provide details related to suspected violations of the Emergency Proclamation to Township officials. As I explained, for reasons of confidentiality and privacy, a list of owners who have rented their properties in the past who to our knowledge are not in violation of the Proclamation cannot be provided. However, should circumstances change this decision may be reconsidered.

Regarding companies’ Rights to Privacy.

AirBnB and VRBO are currently plaintiffs and filed a complaint in Federal Court regarding a NYC Ordinance. A stay is in affect regarding the ordinance that compels internet STR platforms to conduct a monthly dump of “voluminous” info to NYC.

Fourth Amendment protection may apply. However, unlike NYC, our municipal government is not requesting voluminous information on a monthly basis. Our request is reasonable and restricted for monitoring and compliance purposes of our ordinances, NJ fire codes and State of Emergency regulations.

Current tenants of STRs will not be evicted if identified, however, hosts will be investigated for violations should there be reasonable suspicion they acted contrary to Executive Order # 2020-8.

Highland Lake’s refusal to provide their respective list demonstrates the need for STR registrations. The Township must institute the regulatory ordinance for the safety and well-being of our community.

For almost two years, I have met resistance from a Council majority to adopt my proposed STR ordinance(s) for safety and financial considerations.

The Council has a responsibility to implement effective public safety and financial measures. We must have the moral courage to make decisions emphasized by this pandemic.

We, as the governing body must move forward in efforts to safeguard our community and prepare for economic recovery when this crisis ends. I am asking you for your support tonight to adopt the STR ordinances.

Seeing no one wishing to come forward, Council President Shortway asked for a motion to close public hearing for Ordinance #20-09.
Moved: Kelly Weller
Second: John Auberger
All members were in favor.
Motion passed to close public hearing for Ordinance #20-09.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to adopt Ordinance #20-09.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
NAYS: Murphy
ABSTAIN: None
ABSENT:
Motion passed to adopt Ordinance #20-09

Ordinance #20-10: An Ordinance of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, Amending and Supplementing Chapter 509 of the Municipal Code of the Township of Vernon Entitled “Taxation” to Provide for an Annual Allocation of the Hotel and Motel Room and Transient Accommodation Occupancy Tax

Municipal Clerk Gianattasio read by title Ordinance #20-10.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to open public hearing for Ordinance #20-10.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel
All members were in favor.

Seeing no one wishing to come forward, Council President Shortway asked for a motion to close public hearing for Ordinance #20-10.
Moved: Kelly Weller
Second: John Auberger
All members were in favor.
Motion passed to close public hearing for Ordinance #20-10

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to adopt Ordinance #20-10.
Moved: Kelly Weller
Second: Mark Van Tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
NAYS: Murphy
ABSTAIN: None
ABSENT:
Motion passed to adopt Ordinance #20-10

Public Comments (On any topic, limited to 3 minutes per person)

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to open the meeting for public comments.
Motion: Kelly Weller
Second: Jean Murphy
All members were in favor.

Seeing no members of the public wishing to speak, Council President Shortway asked for a motion to close the public portion of the meeting.
Motion: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel
All members were in favor.

Mayor’s Comments

Vernon Family, the horror of this coronavirus is not simply its own contagion, but also the harmfulness of the circumstances that it has unleased on our society.

Since the first confirmed case of the coronavirus was discovered in the U.S, on January 15; the first confirmed case in New Jersey on March 4; and the first confirmed cases in Sussex County and in our town of Vernon on March 18; some of these harmful circumstances have begun to come to the forefront.

And today I feel that it’s important that I mention one of those circumstances, and that is the sudden and significant spike in domestic violence calls and incidents, along with a significant spike in reported mental and emotional health related problems in all parts of our nation.

All who have studied these sudden and significant spikes in domestic violence calls and incidents, and the significant spikes in reported mental and emotional health related problems throughout our nation, have concluded that it’s undeniable that these spikes are related to the fear and anxiety about this virus; the COVID-19 generated loss of jobs and the resulting economic stress and uncertainty; and the stay-at-home orders/recommendations around the nation. All of these have caused overwhelming and strong negative emotions in both adults and children.

In addition, there is an increase in the levels of stress, mental and emotional problems that are being experienced by first responders and other front-line workers, which are in all of those fields where they are considered to be “essential workers.”

These individuals know that their jobs not only expose them to a higher than normal risk of getting the coronavirus, but they also greatly fear the possibility that they will then take this virus home and pass it on to their family members.

This COVID-19 crisis has produced a situation where for the first time in the lives of those of us who are alive today, we have been told to stay home, to isolate ourselves. And that’s a problem for most human beings, because humans are social animals, and isolation is something that’s foreign to and not mentally and emotionally healthy for most of us.

Since at this point in our fight against this awful virus, we have neither natural immunity nor a vaccine, all rational individuals know and understand why these stay-at-home orders/recommendations are being given.

We know that staying at home and away from others except to perform tasks such as approved work, shopping for food and essentials, taking care of important medical needs, getting out of the house for needed outdoor mental/emotional relief and exercise - - and this includes only that outdoor activity that can be engaged in while practicing social distancing - - we know and understand that the practices of social distancing and staying at home are so far the only proven way to reduce/prevent the spread of this virus.

And while we understand why it’s very important that we follow the stay-at-home orders/recommendations and other social distancing recommendations, we can’t close our eyes, our minds or our hearts to the painful and disturbing sudden and significant spike in domestic violence calls and incidents, plus the significant spike in reported mental and emotional health related problems that these hunkered down and closed in conditions have unleashed.

The recent and ongoing spike in domestic violence calls and incidents, plus the significant spike in reported mental and emotional health related problems that our own municipal law enforcement personnel are having to deal with has made it clear to me that our town is not an exception to this national spike in these types of cases.

For those Vernon residents who may be experiencing emotional or mental difficulties related to the COVID-19 crisis, the Sussex County Division of Health now has certified Disaster Response Crisis Counselors (DRCCs) who can provide help.

These DRCCs are trained to provide disaster mental health services, including psychological first aid and crisis counseling. DRCCs are certified through the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services Disaster and Terrorism Branch, along with the Mental Health Association of New Jersey and the Certification Board of New Jersey, Inc.

A DRCC can be reached through the Sussex County Division of Health COVID-19 Hotline at 973-579-9488.

The Sussex County Division of Health staff and Sussex County Medical Reserve Corps volunteers are also available to answer other questions related to COVID-19. The Hotline’s hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The toll that this coronavirus has taken, and continues to take, is for sure measured in the unpleasant figures of:

43 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2 COVID-19 related deaths in Vernon Township;
506 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 38 COVID-19 related deaths in Sussex County;
64,584 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2443 COVID-19 related deaths in New Jersey; and ...
5547,627 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 21,662 COVID-19 related deaths in America.

However, this coronavirus’ toll on us is also reflected in the many unknown and unknowable number of our fellow human beings who are hurt, terrorized and/or may even lose their lives as a result of domestic violence and mental/emotional health related problems.

Let’s not forget them.

We are all in this together, and we will get through this together, because VERNON CARES, and because together we are VERNON STRONG!

Council Comments

Council Member Murphy commented that she was glad to see that Mountain Creek has submitted money that was collected over the past year by ticket sales. She is hoping that after the pandemic is over Mountain Creek can open back up and pay more of the debt that they owe Vernon.

Council Member Murphy would like to thank Tammie Horsfield, the President of Sussex County Economic Development Partnership, for routinely sending emails with the Governor’s orders. Council Member Murphy said the Sussex County Health website is updated daily with information about Covid-19.

Council Member Murphy said that there is still time for people to complete their census.

Council Member Van Tassel had no comments.

Council Member Weller told everyone to stay health and keep washing their hands.

Council Member Auberger thanked the businesses like the Tracks Deli for taking care of people in this town.

Council President Comments

Council President Shortway wishes everyone good health. He said to please follow the guidelines from the Center of Disease Control, including wash your hands.

Council President Shortway told everyone god bless you and stay healthy.

Adjournment

There being no further items of business to be conducted on the agenda, a motion for Adjournment was made by Council Member Auberger, seconded by Council Member Van Tassel with all members voting in favor.

The Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was adjourned at 7:37 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Marcy Gianattasio, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk

Minutes approved: April 27, 2020