Minutes: August 5, 2019*

YouTube video of the August 5, 2019 council meeting »

Township Council Special Meeting

The special meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 9:00 a.m. on August 5, 2019 in the Vernon Municipal Center, 21 Church Street, Vernon, New Jersey with Council President Jean Murphy presiding.

Statement of Compliance

Adequate notice of this meeting has been provided to the public and the press on July 24, 2019 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. The purpose of the meeting is regarding Authorizing The Collection Of A Tax Of One Half (1/2) Cent Per One Hundred (100) Dollars Of Assessed Value, To Be Dedicated To Recreation, Said Tax To Be Collected For A Period Of Ten (10) Years Beginning In The Year 2020. Official Action may be taken.

Roll Call

Present were Council Members Sandra Ooms, Patrick Curreri, Mark Van Tassel, John Auberger and Council President Murphy, Business Administrator Charles Voelker and Attorney Josh Zielinski.

Salute to the Flag

Council President Murphy led the assemblage in the salute of the flag.

Public Comments (On Current Agenda Items Only)

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to open the meeting to public comments.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel
All members voted in favor.

Brian Lynch questioned the Council why there is a big rush to pass the Ordinance if Vernon will not use the funds for ten years. He added the Council already approved the bond Ordinance to replace the fields this year and recommended Council do further research and revisit issue next year. Mr. Lynch questioned how much will Ordinance #19-18 cost to each taxpayer as there have been conflicted amounts stated and added the Ordinance needs to state the exclusive purpose of collection, so funds are not misappropriated.

Sally Rinker, Vernon, stated she watched the video from the July 22nd council meeting when Ordinance #19-18 was introduced and opined is was not properly done since it was not on the agenda nor had 48 hour public notice. She stated that a previous Vernon Council passed legislature to have full ordinance verbiage on every agenda for introduced ordinances which was not followed in this case. Ms. Rinker opined that council members rely on guidance from the Township Attorney but sometimes is farther from the truth. She opined that Council President Murphy admonished the Mayor at meetings and accused her handling the turf field issue was for political reasons then tried to relate to the recreation community.

Ms. Rinker noted her reluctance to call this an Ordinance similar to the Open Space Ordinance approved to spend funds on trails that don’t exist and objected to how Township is not run as a business. Ms. Rinker opined that Council President Murphy prides herself in creating ideas that result in bad decisions and higher taxes. She added Vernon needs to build a foundation to solve problems but not from raising fees, increasing debt and destroying the image of the town. Ms. Rinker noted that council discussion during hearing for Ordinance #19-18 shifted to other non-related topics like paving trails, Pump Track, 501c3s. Ms. Rinker reminded Council that in 2016 she offered the idea, design, creation and development of a Pump Track to the Mayor for free but now the Council President wants a private entity to develop. Ms. Rinker thanked Council Member Ooms for asking how much the proposed tax would yield as figures were never discussed.

Ms. Rinker stated that Council Members Auberger, Van Tassel requested that the Ordinance should dedicate the funds collected for future turf fields but noted the drafted Ordinance states Recreation purposes. She stated she moved to Vernon for Recreation which is positive for the community but the Council discussed that the specific language be in the question so the voters understand how funds will be used. Ms. Rinker commented that Council Members took the risk of voting on something that was not written and added the Township Attorney should have drafted the legislation on the spot for the record. Ms. Rinker noted the article in the Advertiser news was misleading but was the only information for the public to view and believe. Ms. Rinker urged Council to rewrite the Ordinance to specify how the funds can be used and recommended not to rush the matter and wait until the Spring to decide. She urged Council not to abuse the voters this way but make real productive plans to increase revenue.

Ms. Rinker asserted that should Council not approve Ordinance #19-18 as currently written, by further taxing our residents for a recreation slush fund, the action would be reckless and disrespectful.

Bonnie Rubin requested an explanation why this Council Meeting with a very important community topic was scheduled at 9:00 in the morning when most are at work and unable to attend.

Jessi Paladini objected to time of the meeting when it is hard for working residents to attend. She stated she listened to the entire recording of the July 22, 2019 meeting and felt ashamed of the governing body that introduced an Ordinance when it was not properly noticed or documented. Ms. Paladini commented the council has the obligation to learn the laws and opined Council has been elected to serve and not follow the lawless Council President. Ms. Paladini commented that only once in 35 years, an emergency Ordinance was approved during a meeting but then the Attorney drafted the wording before vote was taken. She added the law states that the title must be read at the time of Introduction which was not done and noted the Township Attorney allowed the Council to introduce the legislation.

Ms. Paladini commented that July 22nd discussion of proposed Ordinance was haphazard including topics of turf, Open Space, Grants, 501c3, 5-year, 10-year and Recreation uses with Council approving a wordless, titleless Ordinance which may become a binding referendum. Ms. Paladini opined the residents deserve better and implored the Council to not approve the Ordinance.

Sean Clarkin, Vernon, commented about the history of when the turf fields were built. In 2001, average sale of house in Vernon Township was $146,000, then in 2005- 2006, property values increase to average of $271,000 and the community decided to invest and build the turf fields. He stated in 2008, the real estate bubble burst, spending decreased, businesses laid off employees, but local government kept the budget the same. Mr. Clarkin added now house values average $169,000, and the turf fields need replacement, but the community cannot afford the expense of turf. He suggested Vernon only allow the fields to be used for township teams to extend their useful life.

Matt Connelly, Highland Lakes, opined the cost of the turf fields is a tax drain to the residents and questioned need to replace since there has been a dramatic decline in school aged children. He added the information was provided to the public only after the Ordinance was approved and stated tax increases from the county, schools and now the turf fields are a very heavy burden.

Andre Stolte commented she is not a Vernon resident but is a prospective buyer and noted concern on how business is run. She questioned how the turf replacement will be contracted so there is no collusion.

Cathy Johnson-Witte objected to the time of the meeting being too early in the day when only retired or locally employed residents can come. Ms. Witte commented that as a realtor she needs to come to more meetings to speak for the people of Vernon and future buyers as meeting videos online are very embarrassing. She opined that Council Members are in office as long as the public can trust you to do the job you were elected to do.

Seeing no more members of the public wishing to speak, Council President Murphy asked for a motion to close the meeting to public comments.
Moved: Sandra Ooms
Second: John Auberger
All members voted in favor.

Council President Murphy commented that there were no funds budgeted for the turf field replacement. She added Council discussed this issue at many meetings with many supporters expressing the need for the turf replacement and none coming forward opposing the action and questioned the public why are they speaking out now.

Council Member Ooms commented she does not think the question should go on the ballot for tax for future recreation purchases. She noted residents are already paying for the current turf bond, recreation budget, shared service agreement with the PAL and school tax for athletic programs. Council Member Ooms stated that all the current recreation expenditures need to be added to the question for increased public awareness. She stated she needed to excuse herself from meeting for a few minutes.

Council President Murphy the time of the special meeting was based on Council availability. Public speaking out of order. Council Member Auberger explained the Ordinance provides flexibility for the future in case issue with turf fields arise and funds need to be used to revert back to grass. Various members of public speaking out of order. Council President Murphy suggested that Mr. Clarkin call her if he has further questions. Council Member Ooms returned to meeting.

Council President Murphy explained to public the Ordinance would add question to ballot to collect tax for ten years, collecting $100,000+ annually for purpose of fields and Council had time to review and ask questions. Council Member Ooms expressed concern that wording is not specific to turf fields and asked if the Township Attorney wrote the question.

Council President Murphy commented that a private resident contacted her about a potential Pump Track and creating a 501c3 and she put them in contact with the EDAC to work together. She added that Vernon Township prides itself in being a four-season community which is why the discussions about Recreation are so important. Council Member Curreri stated we must keep government accountable with any funds collected and agreed with Ms. Ooms with concern of potential toxicity from turf fields.

Council Member Ooms recommended the funds be budgeted annually and use the existing Recreation Trust Fund. Council Member Auberger added the reason the specific wording of turf fields gives the Township an option should decision be made to revert back to grass fields. Council President Murphy commented many residents spoke at meetings for support of fields, trails, bike trails showing that Vernon is a Recreation town and if the Ordinance is limited to turf, the residents are short changed.

Attorney Zielinski instructed the public to stop speaking out of order.

Council Member Auberger commented no funds were saved for this purpose of replacing the turf fields which lasted 14 years and now Council wishes to put question to the public to decide how to save for future replacement instead of bonding again.

Council President Murphy commented that the real estate provided by Mr. Clarkin earlier is reckless and not guaranteed as numbers include short sales, foreclosures, flipped homes not reflective of true values.

Public Hearing/2nd Reading of Ordinances

Ordinance #19-18: An Ordinance of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, Authorizing the Collection of a Tax of One Half (1/2) Cent Per One Hundred (100) Dollars of Assessed Value, to Be Dedicated to Recreation, Said Tax to Be Collected for a Period of Ten (10) Years Beginning in the Year 2020

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to open public hearing for Ordinance #19-18.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel
All members were in favor.

Brian Lynch commented that Council inferred that he was aligned with someone but emphasized he is here as a taxpayer to urge Council not to rush this decision and discuss further options. Mr. Lynch questioned if there is any progress on Route 515 truck traffic issue. Council President Murphy stated Vernon has addressed the need for Sussex County and Hardyston to adopt legislation and is waiting for their responsive action.

Sean Clarkin recommended the Council amend the question to specify improvements at Maple Grange Park which will satisfy all concerns. Mr. Clarkin understands concern of true house values early discussed but pointed out that property values do not warrant need for turf fields. He suggested the town consolidate the recreation programs run by the town, schools and PAL to lower expenses. Mr. Clarkin noted the decrease in school enrollment and suggested tax money be redirected to maintain a high level of education. He added suggestions to lower taxes by closing recycling center and having local landscapers maintain the township fields.

Jessi Paladini commented the Council will not change the wording of the Ordinance due to the need it will require reintroduction. She thanked Mr. Clarkin for the enlightening commentary as a realtor. Ms. Paladini stated that Sparta Township is currently installing four turf fields using funds from the Capital Improvement Fund, not bonding. Ms. Paladini noted the Township Code states that Special Council Meetings require approval of three Members before scheduling and questioned if that occurred which she will request under OPRA.

Ms. Paladini commented that Vernon started savings for the field replacement in 2008 by depositing the field rental fees into the Recreation Trust Fund. She expressed her lack of support for the Recreation programs being run by the PAL. Ms. Paladini opined the Ordinance was illegally created and urged concerned citizens to challenge the issue in court. Ms. Paladini objected to what she referred to as the Murphy Triple Tax: collected field user fees, Bond Ordinance, and now proposed replacement field tax. Ms. Paladini commented to Council Member Auberger that the ordinance dedicates funds to Recreation Programs such as Ping Pong, Bike Pump Track, Disc Golf but does not mention fields. She continued by reading the explanatory statement which states funds shall include but not be limited to purchases of Recreation equipment or maintenance of recreation but does not mention fields.

Cathy Johnson-Witte questioned if what Ms. Paladini read was the actual Ordinance which does not mention fields but only Recreation. Ms. Witte objected to the proposed ordinance going forward as it is not what was discussed or intended.

Andrea Stolte commented that as wages have remained stagnant, expenses such as gas, groceries, taxes have all increased and urged Council not to move forward with the additional tax at this time.

Sean Clarkin questioned why the Council is misleading the public by stating fields are included in the Ordinance.

Seeing no one wishing to come forward, Council President Murphy asked for a motion to close public hearing for Ordinance #19-18.
Moved: Mark Van Tassel
Second: Sandra Ooms
All members were in favor.

Attorney Zielinski addressed the public by reading the Ordinance which authorizes the collection of 1/2 cent per $100 assessed value for ten years beginning in year 2020 dedicated to Recreation: funds will be collected in a dedicated account to be used on Recreation; examples include Recreation equipment purchases and fields.

Attorney Zielinski ordered public to refrain from speaking out of order.

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to adopt Ordinance #19-18.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Patrick Curreri

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Patrick Curreri, Mark Van Tassel, John Auberger, Jean Murphy
Nays: Sandra Ooms
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion passed to adopt Ordinance #19-18.

Resolution for Separate Action

Resolution #19-160: A Resolution of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex County, State of New Jersey, Authorizing the Collection of a Tax of One Half (1/2) Cent Per One Hundred (100) Dollars of Assessed Value, to Be Dedicated to Recreation, Said Tax to Be Collected for a Period of Ten (10) Years Beginning in the Year 2020

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to adopt Resolution #19-160.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Patrick Curreri, Mark Van Tassel, John Auberger, Jean Murphy
Nays: Sandra Ooms
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion passed to adopt Resolution #19-160.

Public Comments (Limited to 3 minutes on any topic)

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to open the meeting to public comments.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Patrick Curreri
All members voted in favor.

Sally Rinker thanked Council Member Ooms for being the only Council Member to stand up for good government, correct process and the law for taxpayers and is proud to be her friend. Ms. Rinker stated the Council President has two tasks in the current form of government: chairing the Council Meeting and setting the meeting agendas. She opined that Ms. Murphy has morphed the position to a hybrid situation acting also as an assistant to the Mayor. She suggested that newly elected officials in Vernon can operate legally, professionally, without any conflicts of interests and cronyism. Ms. Rinker opined Ms. Murphy crossed into realm of administration and contradicted her position of Council Member and six years of serving Vernon was in disgrace.

Jessi Paladini commented to Council Members Curreri and Auberger that information previously discussed were lies and expressed disgrace of Council members actions.

Sean Clarkin questioned what action the Council just took involving the turf fields. Attorney Zielinski explained the Council approved the question of the collection of the Recreation tax to be added to the ballot in November for voters to vote on. Council President Murphy addressed Mr. Clarkin telling him he took information from the Advertiser Newspaper which was incorrect and posted on social media which spread misinformation and asked him to revise it for the public’s sake. Mr. Clarkin confirmed the explanation that voters will have the option to vote yes or no to the question in November. Council President Murphy explained the two fields that were approved to be replaced were discussed at three council meetings with about 400 residents coming forward in support.

Bonnie Rubin commented she heard the reading of the Ordinance #19-18 and expressed concern that the wording is deceptive and not want was implied to the public previously. Council President Murphy offered Ms. Rubin a copy of the Ordinance to review.

Seeing no members of the public wishing to come forward, Council President Murphy asked for a motion to close the meeting to public comments.
Moved: Mark Van Tassel
Second: John Auberger
All members voted in favor.

Council Comments

Council Member Ooms stated she is not in favor of the Recreation tax and would like to see it added to the regular Township budget. She expressed concern of the possible toxicity of turf fields and additional cost to the already approved replacement of two fields and the football field in two years. Council Member Ooms stated Recreation is important to our town but stressed the need for balance for the residents that don’t have children, the elderly and those who struggle to pay their bills.

Council Member Curreri stated that the ballot box is a great equalizer in the debate of the Recreation tax and will provide the public three months to decide.

Council Member Van Tassel had no comments.

Council Member Auberger addressed the citizen who questioned why local landscapers are not used to maintain the Township fields and explained a Public Bid was performed since the DPW has been understaffed but there were no bids received by interested parties, he added the approval of Ordinance #19-18 allows the question to be put forth before voters so that funds can be put away for the next time replacement of the fields is expected so that no future bonding will be needed.

Council President Comments

Council President Murphy stated she takes pride in following Murphy’s Law. She explained the Anti-Nepotism Ordinance wording came from the Township Attorney and was approved but was then vetoed by the Mayor due to objection to the four year period.

Attorney Zielinski addressed the public to stop calling out.

Council President Murphy explained the request to add Cronyism to the Anti -Nepotism Ordinance was difficult to ascertain or define.

Council Member Ooms added the Ordinance could have been changed and noted many times she wanted changes to legislation, but they were always voted down.

Adjournment

There being no further items of business to be conducted on the agenda, Council President Murphy asked for a motion to adjourn.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Patrick Curreri, Mark Van Tassel, John Auberger, Jean Murphy
Nays: Sandra Ooms
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion passed to adjourn.

The Regular Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was adjourned at 10:38 a.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Lauren Kirkman, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk

Minutes approved: August 26, 2019