Minutes: April 27, 2020

YouTube video of the April 27, 2020 meeting »

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

The meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 7:00 p.m. on April 27, 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 Josh Zielinski.

Salute to the Flag

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

Item for Discussion

Class of 2020 Sign Project

Administrator Charles Voelker explained that upon a request for a Class of 2020 Sign Project that will honor the graduating seniors from the Vernon Township Board of Education he immediately contacted the Sussex County Engineer and the Sussex County Administrator to discuss placing signs on the Route 515 which is a County Road. Mr. Voelker explained that the Board of Education is willing to switch the project to Township roads only if they do not get permission from the County to use their roads. The Board of Education would prefer to use Route 515 because the signs would be most visible as well as some Township roads.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to accept the plan for the 2020 sign project from the Vernon Township Board of Education that will honor Vernon Township’s Graduating Seniors on Township of County roadways.

Motion: Mark Van Tassel
Second: Jean Murphy
All members were in favor.

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

Council President Shortway opened the meeting for public comments.
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: Mark Van Tassel
All members were in favor.

Minutes

April 13, 2020 Regular Meeting

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve the above meeting minutes.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel
All members were in favor.
Motion carried to approve the April 13, 2020 regular meeting minutes.

Consent Agenda

Resolution #20-112: Resolution Authorizing the Execution of a Shared Services Agreement Between the Township of Vernon and the Borough of Franklin for Animal Control Services

Council President Shortway read the title of the resolution.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve the consent agenda.
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 consent agenda.

Resolution #20-112: Resolution Authorizing the Execution of a Shared Services Agreement Between the Township of Vernon and the Borough of Franklin for Animal Control Services

WHEREAS, the Borough of Franklin has requested that the Township of Vernon (“Township”) provide animal control services whenever there is a need for an animal control officer in the Borough of Franklin; and

WHEREAS, the request has been reviewed and approved by the appropriate Township officials; and

WHEREAS, the Township is willing to provide animal control services to the Borough of Franklin and this is deemed in the best interest of the Township; and

WHEREAS, such agreements are authorized pursuant to the Uniform Shared Services Consolidation Act, N.J.S.A. 40A:65-1 et. seq.; and

WHEREAS, a shared services agreement has been negotiated by and between the parties and that establishes the terms and conditions thereof.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the Township of Vernon as follows:

  1. The Mayor and Township Clerk are authorized to execute the attached shared services agreement between the Township of Vernon and the Borough of Franklin for animal control services.
  2. A copy of said agreement will be attached to this resolution and held on file in the Office of the Township Clerk.
  3. A certified copy this resolution shall be forwarded to the Mayor and Clerk of the Borough of Franklin.

Public Hearing 2020 Municipal Budget

Resolution #20-113: A Resolution to Read the 2020 Municipal Budget by Title Only

Council President Shortway read the title of Resolution #20-113.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-113.
Moved: Mark Van Tassel
Second: John Auberger

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
Nays:
Abstain:
Absent:
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-113

Resolution #20-113: A Resolution to Read the 2020 Municipal Budget by Title Only

WHEREAS, N.J.S.A. 40A:4-8 provides that the budget may be read by title only at the time of the public hearing if a resolution is passed by not less than a majority of the full governing body, as well as posting of same; and

WHEREAS, the conditions required by N.J.S.A. 40A:4-8 have been satisfied for the 2020 Municipal Budget by Township Officials.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, by the Township Council of Vernon, New Jersey that the 2020 Municipal Budget shall be read by title only at the Public Hearing (scheduled on April 27, 2020).

This Resolution shall take effect immediately upon adoption according to law.

Resolution #20-98: Self Examination of the 2020 Budget Resolution

Council President Shortway read the title of Resolution #20-98.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-98.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Kelly Weller

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
Nays:
Abstain:
Absent:
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-98

Public Comments

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

Thomas McClachrie - Vernon Township, is saying no to the budget. He feels that the budget does not look at the financial difficulties that are going to be in the future of the Township. Mr. McClarchie said that there are 800,000 unemployed New Jersey residents in the last five weeks and that does not include the people who have been reduced to part-time. He feels that if the Council goes forward with the budget, next year is going to look horrible.

Jessi Paladini - Vernon Township agrees with Mr. McClachrie. Ms. Paladini explained that she has been reading articles in the newspaper about different municipalities that are making all kinds of changes to their budgets in light of what is happening with Covid-19. She said that the rate of unemployment right now is liken the rate of the great depression. Ms. Paladini addressed the Council President about trails and recreation saying she does not understand how the Council passed that ordinance just two weeks ago. Ms. Paladini feels that the budget need to be redone, because she feels that there are going to be some serious problems. She told the Council that you may say money was taken out of a different fund and allocated to trails, recreation and fields but it should be allocated to the general budget.

Sandy Ooms - Vernon Township, hopes everyone is well and safe during the pandemic. She agrees with Mr. McClachrie and Ms. Paladini. Ms. Ooms said that this is no time to be spending money and it is time to cut back. She feels that there is a lot of places in the budget that can be cut back. Ms. Ooms said that a $10.00 increase versus a $50.00 increase is not going to help everybody. She feels that this is the time to cut back and keep the money in the fund balance because we will need it. Ms. Ooms said that Mountain Creek could have a bad year and there are a lot of places the money should be saved for.

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

Adoption of the 2020 Municipal Budget

Resolution #20-114: Adoption of the 2020 Municipal Budget

Council President Shortway read the title of Resolution #20-114.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-114.
Moved: Mark Van Tassel
Second: Kelly Weller

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
Nays: Murphy
Abstain:
Absent:
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-114

Resolution #20-114 

Public Comments

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

Jessi Paladini - Vernon Township, feel that the Council is doing a good job with the Zoom meetings. She told everyone to stay well.

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

Mayor’s Comments

Mr. Council President and other Council Members, as you are no doubt aware, many of the comments from our national and state political leaders over the past several days have centered around when and how we should “reopen” of our economy, and thereby limit, and hopefully bring an end to, this disastrous coronavirus led national economic decline.

On today, Governor Phil Murphy announced that his “Stay-At-Home Executive Order,” which has been in effect since March 21, will remain in effect in its entirety until further notice.

He also listed the following six key principles and metrics that will guide his process for lifting restrictions and restoring New Jersey’s economic health by restoring its public health:

  1. A demonstration of sustained reductions in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalization.
  2. An expansion of New Jersey’s COVID-19 testing capacity.
  3. The implementation of a robust contract tracing system.
  4. The availability of secure, safe places and resources for isolation and quarantine of individuals who test positive for the COVID-19 virus in the future.
  5. The ability to execute a responsible economic restart. And ...
  6. The ability to ensure New Jersey’s resiliency against a possible resurgence of the virus.

As you are aware, as part of the host of measures that we in Vernon Township have implemented to keep our employees and the public safe, and to limit the opportunity for this virus to spread, we:

  1. Closed our senior. This is an action that we took on March 13, a full week before the governor’s Stay-At-Home Executive Order;
  2. Declared a Municipal State of Emergency, resulting in:
    1. The closing of public access to our municipal center and our police department;
    2. The complete closing of one of our two municipal parks, and at the other park, closing off any use or access to playground equipment, any sports and recreation equipment; and, the posting of signs forbidding any group or other activities that could not be done without social distancing.
  3. Put off/postponed any municipal sponsored civic events and activities that could not be conducted under the social distancing guidelines. And ...
  4. Figured out a way to maintain our ability to continue to provide basic services to the residents of Vernon, while at the same time allowing half of our municipal employees to work from home for a two-week period (according to the CDC, the incubation period for the COVID-19 virus) while self-quarantining.

An just as our governor has been planning for the reopening of our state’s economy, Business Administrator Volker and I have been planning to address those issues, some of which the mayor and the council will have to face and figure out together, that are related to us being able to safely, effectively and efficiently reopen and put back into full, normal operation, important town resources such as our municipal center, our senior center, our police department, our Department of Public Works and all other town resources and services.

As to the question of when we will reopen and put town resources and services back into full, normal operation - - we will be guided by the governor’s directives.

As it relates to the specifics of how we will do this - - we will ensure that that we clearly and timely inform the public and the Council of our intended actions.

With second quarter property tax payments coming due May 1, over the past several weeks that I and other New Jersey mayors have had weekly COVID-19 related phone conferences with the governor’s office, we have all asked about possible administrative or legislative authority that would allow us to extend the May 1 property tax payment date. However, it is with regret that I must advise that as of this date, no such authority has been granted.

On another tax payment related matter, for years the town’s policy has been that those few individuals who still pay their property taxes in cash, must make such payments in person at the Tax Collector’s Window in the municipal center. Since measures to protect, both, the public and our municipal employees, have resulted in the municipal center being closed to the public, we will accommodate those who want to pay their taxes in cash by giving them the opportunity to make an appointment with the Tax Collector’s office for a specific day and time for them to bring their cash tax payments to the municipal center, where they will be greeted at a temporary tax payment station that will be set up at the front door of the municipal center. At this station, their cash payments will be accepted and counted in their presence, and they will be given a receipt for their payment.

This is part of our ongoing effort to do our best to serve the residents of Vernon Township.

I end my comments with the latest update quantifying the degree of pain and suffering that this COVID-19 virus is inflecting on our county and our town. As of today, Vernon Township has 98 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 11% of Sussex County’s total of 876; and 6 COVID-19 related deaths, 6% of Sussex County’s total of 93.

Thank you Mr. Council President and other Council Members.

Council Comments

Council Member Murphy commented that she that she would like a copy of the phase 1 study that goes with resolution #20-85. This is the property that the Vernon is looking to have donated to us, Vernon Crossing.

Council Member Murphy said that she has had resident ask her about a sign hanging by the D&S Mall that needs to be fixed before it blows down.

Council Member Murphy said that the Sussex County Freeholders at their meetings have been talking about expanding the landfill which would be a $50,000,000 project.

Council Member Murphy spoke about the Wastewater Feasibility. She said that on April 16th the MUA held a meeting with Council President Shortway and Mayor Burrell. Council Member Murphy explained that on March 22nd, Mike Furrey who is the Chair of the MUA Committee sent the Mayor a letter, she is mentioning the letter because when she saw the agenda for the MUA Committee meeting it looks like they are mirroring what the Waste Water Management Committee is doing. Council Member Murphy is concerned about the duplications.

Council Member Murphy discussed the letter that was addressed to Mayor Burrell, shared with the whole Council and signed by Mike Furrey. Council Member Murphy read parts of the letter and feels that this has all been done and addressed. She finds it troubling that the letter talks about renegotiating a contract from 2012 that doesn’t even exit.

Council Member Van Tassel had no comments.

Council Member Weller had no comments.

Council Member Auberger had no comments.

Council President Comments

Mountain Creek has now paid $776,372 for the year, which represents over 90% of its total $856,350 obligation for all of 2020.

Sussex County Counsel Kevin Kelly and the county’s special bankruptcy attorney Robert Nies filed objections to the agreement that M&T Bank, Vernon and Mountain Creek agreed to.

Sussex County has always maintained the initial settlement brokered among Debtors, M&T Bank and the Vernon Parties was illegal, unconstitutional and, ultimately, unconfirmable.

County’s objection(s) resulted in a trivial guarantee to the settlement and delayed the final agreement for almost a year, and cost Mountain Creek and Vernon thousands of more dollars in legal fees.

Sussex County filed a claim for administrative expenses in the amount of $197,767.95 incurred in connection with its efforts in: (1) objecting to Mountain Creek’s Original Settlement agreement; and (2) ensuring that any settlement formulated after its objection was legal and enforceable. Sussex County indicates that the basis for its claim is reimbursement of legal expenses and costs.

The United States Bankruptcy Court ruled last month; Sussex County lacks standing required to receive payment for an administrative expense claim under the law. Since Sussex County cannot recover an administrative claim, its legal fees are not recoverable.

So who will pay for this $200,000 miscalculation by the County’s attorneys?

The answer is clear, we, county property taxpayers will pay for this error.

I have submitted an OPRA request for copies of all invoices, purchase orders, or bills for attorneys’ fees for representation on behalf of Sussex County regarding the Mountain Creek bankruptcy, and all associated debtors in this chapter 11 case(s) including but not limited to as follows: Mountain Creek Resort, Inc., Mountain Creek Services Inc., Mountain Creek Management, LLC, Mountain Creek Mountainslide, LLC, Mountain Leasing LLC , and Appalachian Liquors Corporation from May 2017 to April 23, 2020.

This includes Robert E. Nies, Esq., and Kevin D. Kelly, Esq. attorneys for Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and all other attorneys who have represented and billed Sussex County for legal services pertaining to the above described bankruptcy, settlement, objections, and/or complaints.

Another colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.

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 7:46 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Marcy Gianattasio, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk

Minutes approved: May 11, 2020