Minutes: March 21, 2016*
The meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 10:00 a.m. on Monday March 21, 2016 in the Vernon Municipal Center, 21 Church Street, Vernon, New Jersey with Council President Dan Kadish presiding.
Statement of Compliance
Adequate notice of this meeting has been provided to the public and the press on March 17, 2016, and was posted on the bulletin board in the Municipal Building in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:47. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss Department Budget Presentations. Official Action may be taken.
Roll Call of Members
Present were Council Members Jean Murphy, Sandra Ooms, Patrick Rizzuto, Dick Wetzel and Council President Dan Kadish. Also in attendance were Mayor Shortway, Administrator Charles Voelker, Assistant Township Attorney Robert McBriar and CFO Elke Yetter.
Salute to the Flag
Council President Kadish led the assemblage of the flag.
Council President Kadish asked for a motion to open the meeting for public comments.
Motion: Dick Wetzel
Second: Sandra Ooms
All members voted in favor.
There being no members of the public wishing to speak Council President Kadish asked for a motion to close public comments.
Motion: Dick Wetzel
Second: Sandra Ooms
All members voted in favor.
Items for Discussion
Municipal Budget 2016
Council Member Murphy stated she would like to add in the Council Budget a line item to hire an attorney to analyze all of the sewer agreements that the Town has. Council Member Murphy stated she felt it should be someone who was not involved in any way previously.
Council Member Ooms discussed the Fire Marshal budget and questions if any of the items in the current budget, for example, education, equipment or materials & supplies can be taken from the trust account instead. CFO Yetter explained that the education expense is for the League and arson classes which may be taken from trust for the Fire Marshal and materials & supplies must be in the current fund. Council Member Ooms questioned if it is still necessary to budget for Lifelock services for employees or if there are any other less expensive plans we can provide. Business Administrator Voelker answered that he has asked our Risk Manager to research the Township’s options. Council Member Rizzuto explained that we cannot lower the plans because it was a contractual agreement with our Bargaining Units who threatened to sue because of the breach and every year we need to reaffirm our contract. CFO Yetter detailed it is a 5-year agreement and that we have already paid 2013, 2014 and 2015 and we still need to pay 2016 & 2017. Council Member Murphy asked if the agreement was written. Council Member Rizzuto stated it was verbal between the Mayor and bargaining units and no change in the plan can be made.
Council Member Ooms inquired if the floaters are laid-off, will that provide money in the budget for the sewer analysis and for more help in the Clerk’s Office as personnel is the biggest item in the budget. Mayor Shortway explained that after the layoff in 2010, the staff was bare bones and help was needed so floaters were brought in to be cross trained to help in all departments. Mayor Shortway added that they we may be looking for help in the Clerk’s office in the 2017 budget. Mayor Shortway further explained that floaters are lower income employees hired to be cross trained to serve the public in whatever capacity they are needed. Mayor Shortway added that when dealing with personnel positions, we need to be conscious of Civil Service Titles and duties and if a layoff is decided upon Vernon is responsible for unemployment benefits for two years so we would lack the public service and still pay out. Council Member Ooms opined that Vernon has a budget crunch and we need to carefully look at employee costs and benefits because part-timers were hired at a cost savings but then moved to full time positions. Mayor Shortway stated he has analyzed the Town’s situation and plans to, through attrition, due to retirements, meet the budget needs. Mayor Shortway explained the discussed possible changes with positions of Director of Community Affairs, police retirements and other DPW employees will be replaced in house utilizing existing employees and saving additional money. Mayor Shortway adds that the employee count will go down and will be more cost effective than preparing a layoff plan which could take 3-4 months.
Council Member Murphy stated the floaters we have are untrained and she is not favor of sending any employees to school to further their careers. Council Member Murphy suggested that Vernon should hire already licensed and experienced people for example a Deputy Clerk. Mayor Shortway replied that an ordinance to create that position would need to be done. Mayor Shortway commented that the floater positions have been trained in house, are flexible and serve a meaningful purpose. Council Member Wetzel said it makes good business sense to have consistency in this building and coverage so offices are not closed because someone is out sick. Council Member Rizzuto offered that what we need is to increase ratables which will directly lower taxes. Council Member Ooms opined that when a floater is covering an office they will not have the credentials to assist the public. Council Member Rizzuto answered then in comparison, the Township should also have a second certified employee as the CFO, Tax Collector and Tax Assessor positions as well which the Town could never afford. Council Member Murphy answered that all of those departments already have trained experienced employees who can fill in when needed.
Council Member Rizzuto instructed the Mayor, as the CEO, that in this form of government, the Council cannot direct you what to cut but can direct you how much and I will not vote for anything above 2.0%. Council Member Rizzuto added that per the Vernon Administrative Code, the Mayor and Council members should understand the responsibilities and roles of their positions. Council Member Rizzuto added there is no reason to waste up to $30,000 for a new attorney for a sewer agreement analysis as Attorney John Ursin is the most knowledgeable person to explain and answer any questions they may have. Council Member Rizzuto added the Council can plan an executive session for this purpose. Council Member Rizzuto indicated that is not necessary to add a clerk level individual for covering a possible absence of the Municipal Clerk. Council Member Wetzel questions how many times does the Council need to revisit the sewer analysis for another $30,000 what is a new lawyer going to accomplish. Council Member Ooms comments that the Township Attorney has a conflict with analyzing the sewer agreements because he worked for the MUA, created those policies and may be biased. Council Member Rizzuto questioned why do you assume a legal conflict?
Council President Kadish asked if the proposed 5.8 % increase is in or out of the cap? CFO Yetter responded that the Appropriations cap is under by $474,000.00 which can be carried over and banked. The allowed appropriation is $17,170,701 and our proposed appropriation is $17,601,484, and the Tax levy cap we are under $247,423 on page sheet 3B1 & 2 of the state budget.
Council President Kadish suggested some areas to be reviewed for efficiency in the budget for example, why do we have rented port-a-johns at Maple Grange Park when we already have facilities there, and gas and diesel fuel efficiency in the fleet, and using local businesses rather than places farther away. Council President Kadish added that he feels the layoff plan should not be dropped as there have been worse times when employees were paid by voucher and other items can be pared a lot more. Council President Kadish commented to the Mayor that his Facebook explanation about the budget was informative and would like him to communicate more with the Council. Council President Kadish added that a 6% increase to the budget is unfathomable but not sure where to cut.
Council Member Wetzel questioned Council President Kadish idea of layoffs. Council President Kadish answered that we need to make a plan with respect to seniority, Civil Service rules, bumping rights and one that is fair to employees. Council Member Wetzel asked if a buyout is possible but Mayor Shortway said we have pension considerations. Council President Kadish suggested we cap benefits of vacation and sick time by setting policy to “use it or lose it.” Mayor Shortway added that the government has already capped allowable benefits and also instituted Chapter 78 which sets health care contributions and supports cutting the budget through attrition not layoff.
Mayor Shortway commented that Vernon is forced to budget $140,000 this year for Gypsy Moth spraying which is almost 1/2 tax point, which also is not a guarantee to solve the problem but at least now West Milford and Wawayanda State Park are now spraying too. Council Member Ooms agreed we need to cut other places in order to deal with the Gypsy Moth problem. Mayor Shortway added he does not want to take any more from fund balance or bond.
Council Member Rizzuto commented there is nothing wrong with bonding if the town goes with the right vehicles like SUVs. Mayor Shortway explained that during the summer the sedans are fine. Council Member Rizzuto added that the standardization of vehicle purchases is more cost efficient for purchase of parts or tires and suggested changing replacement schedule for following years to save money.
Council Member Rizzuto asked if budget contains Municipal Building suppression system? Mayor Shortway explained it will cost $100,000 to repair existing tank or also trying to negotiate with Suez to bring water into Town Center and here but that would involve expanding the franchise. Council Member Rizzuto added the by law Suez cannot expand per the BPU and they would have to front the cost. Council Member Rizzuto questioned is Vernon going to pay $100,000 to repair old tank and then find out we will also need to float the bond to put water into the Town Center? Council Member Rizzuto felt that Vernon should now front the bonds or BANS while interest rates are low and will realize 10-1 payback by bringing water down Main Street and Town Center and finish what was started.
Council President Kadish stated he believed that the Town Center pump is now at 400,000 gal/day and has to go up to 600,000 gal/day and Suez wants Vernon to pay for an upgrade. Mayor Shortway stated that the engineer has estimated the cost to bring water to Town Center is $3,000,000 and slightly lower if we install a water tower. Mayor Shortway reiterated that every possible consideration such as water tower, negotiations with Suez, expand DPW wells or repair the municipal building suppression system is being examined for the least financial burden on the taxpayers but we need water in Town Center. Council Member Wetzel questioned the cost of $3,000,000 just to connect the links? Council Member Rizzuto commented that the pipes in town Center were recently studied and thought the quotes should be revisited with the Township Engineer since they were very high. Council Member Rizzuto added we also need to be sensitive to long term for the Town Center. Council Member Rizzuto felt we need to go forward with sewers and water but don’t do something twice. Mayor Shortway agreed that we need to move forward, whatever the financially best way to go.
Council Member Ooms questions how many lots can be developed in Town Center? Mayor Shortway states there is the Faline Building lot, the two Fire Department lots and Quick Chek has expressed interest. Council Member Ooms questioned if an analysis was done that determined it would be better not to build. Council Member Rizzuto commented that big businesses have expressed interest but need water and sewer. Council Member Rizzuto stated he would have never put them in if it wasn’t needed. Council Member Rizzuto stated that due to past administrations decisions, he added that Vernon cannot walk away from $25 million project and we have to move forward by paying a little more to complete it. Council Member Rizzuto added that Town Center improvements were based on expert’s advice with many years of consideration. Council Member Rizzuto stated the Township needs to determine what these major companies need and want to open businesses. Council Member Ooms commented that now the taxpayers have to foot the bill over 15 years later and businesses may not come and there are ethical concerns.
Council Member Wetzel stated that it will be great for tourism in Vernon if Mountain Creek follows through with their projects and distinct possibility of the train expanding north. Council Member Murphy commented that the train at this time will not be for commuters. Council Member Murphy added that even though the municipal vehicles can be bonded doesn’t mean they should be and also felt an independent source to review the existing sewer agreements would be beneficial. Council Member Murphy stated we are elected to these positions and rely on professionals and find out they may have been wrong and now the taxpayers need to deal with it and the MUA did not need to be formed in early 2011. Council Member Rizzuto questioned how could the township administer the MUA without having an MUA formed and commissioners appointed.
Council Member Rizzuto feels that in the proposed budget, it would be better to put $100,000 towards Town Center water than to repair fire suppression system at the Municipal Building.
Council President Kadish asked why is the reserve for uncollected taxes decreasing? Council Member Rizzuto asked why the rate has decreased from last year? CFO Yetter explained that the rate was 97.2% in 2014 and 96.46% in 2015, the number which is determined by appeals; we lost $247,000 lost in appeals which goes directly to collection rate and other fluctuations.
CFO Yetter added that the Municipal Services Act budget was $500,000 in 2014, and was lowered in 2015 to $375,000 not leaving a balance to cover occurrence of major storms, so we needed to budget $500,000 in 2016 to cover shortfall from 2015 reimbursements. Mayor Shortway states the ruling said there is a higher degree difficulty to plow the qualified communities, and cost to fight percentage points in court would not be cost efficient. Council President Kadish commented that since the communities designed the roads when they were built he felt the percent should be lowered. Mayor Shortway explained the courts have ruled and we are held by it. Council Member Murphy stated that in 2010, the Township paid for an analysis at a cost of $12,000 that determined we should reimburse at a rate of 1.5%.
Council President Kadish questioned if Vernon Township is responsible for $40,000 for the bridge on Valley View that was damaged in Hurricane Sandy and asked why isn’t it a responsibility of the developer, homeowners and the homeowners association. Council Member Rizzuto understood that the homeowners did not have the receipts of the repairs done and were not able to be reimbursed. Mayor Shortway stated that FEMA has not yet ruled on the appeal for damages and work was never done so they suspect that damage was not emergent and therefore not reimbursable. Mayor Shortway added that it may cost more to put an easement in than replacing the bridge and research is ongoing. Council Member Murphy commented that we also could be receiving up to 550 tax appeals this year. Mayor Shortway explained that we have many fixed costs and services which need to be financed such as Schools, County, Police, DPW, employees, bonds, and services. Council President Kadish asked if there are any conclusions on budget changes? Mayor Shortway expressed to Council that he will meet with administration and take all suggestions under consideration.
There being no further items of business to be conducted on the agenda, a motion of Adjournment was made by Council Member Rizzuto and seconded by Council Member Murphy with all members voting in favor.
The Special Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was adjourned at 11:02 a.m.
Lauren Kirkman, RMC, CMR
Minutes approved: June 13, 2016