Minutes: March 21, 2022*

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The Special Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 7:00 p.m. on March 21, 2022 in person and via Zoom Webinar and in the Vernon Municipal Center, 21 Church Street, Vernon, New Jersey with Council President Patrick Rizzuto presiding.

STATEMENT OF COMPLIANCE

Adequate notice of this meeting has been provided to the public and the press on March 14, 2022 and was posted on the bulletin board in the Municipal Building in accordance with the Open Public Meeting Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-7. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the Township Budget and any other business that may come before the Council. Official Action may be taken.

SALUTE TO THE FLAG

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

ROLL CALL

Present were Council Members Natalie Buccieri, Brain Lynch, Michael Furrey, and Council President Patrick Rizzuto. Also present were Mayor Howard Burrell, Business Administrator Charles Voelker, Municipal Clerk Marcy Gianattasio and CFO Donelle Bright.

Council Member Shortway was not present.

MAYOR COMMENT

Members of the Council, before we get into the details of reviewing the proposed budget, in the interest of informing the public, I ask that you please allow me to share a summary version of the Budget Message that I sent to you in February.

During the past five months, Business Administrator Chuck Voelker, Chief Financial Officer Donelle Bright and I have been meeting with municipal department heads and reviewing/discussing their budget related departmental requirements/plans for 2022.

The entire staff started their 2022 budget development process with direction from me that they look for cost savings opportunities in every departmental line item.

This year's budget, as it is proposed, has been developed with a focus on the achievement of seven key goals. These seven key goals are:

1. To maintain the level of services that our town is required to provide, or has committed to providing, while at the same time looking for areas where we can operate in a more effective and efficient way;

2. To continue our ongoing road improvement program, and to replace, in an efficient and financially responsible manner, town vehicles and equipment that are beyond their useful life;

3. To continue to pay down our debt and create a pay-as-you-go system for most capital expenses;

4. To continue to make repairs and improvements to township properties so as to avoid even larger improvement costs in the future;

5. To Move Vernon Forward towards continuing to be the type of town that's a good place to live and raise a family, as well as a place where businesses want to locate and prosper;

6. To minimize the tax burden on Vernon taxpayers as we deal with the negative economic impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic; and ...

7. To do everything reasonable to formulate a 2022 Municipal Budget that does not result in a tax increase that exceeds the current 7.9% rate of inflation.

As our residents know from dealing with their personal household finances, every year the cost of most things increases; that same cost increase principal applies to all of the things related to operating an effective and efficient municipal government.

For 2022, the cost of all of the goods and services that both, our town's residents and their municipal government, must purchase as a normal part of their existence, will cost even more than normal because of the record rate of inflation caused by the COVID-19 created supply chain problems, the shortage of workers and materials, etc.

And it is for this reason, that we put a lot of planning and effort into keeping any increase in this year's municipal taxes to a single digit percent, and for sure under the 7.9% rate of inflation.

I am pleased to report that in spite of cost increases that are above the rate of inflation that the Municipality must pay to obtain Health Insurance for our employees - - i.e., this cost is up 14% - - and for the statutorily required Social Security and Pension payments for retired municipal regular workers and police personnel - - i.e., this cost is up 8% - - we were able to be successful in meeting our goal of limiting any municipal tax increase to under the rate of inflation.

This year's municipal budget, as it is proposed, totals $29,560,105, and, would result a municipal tax increase of just 1.7%!

As a way of measuring the financial impact of this proposed municipal budget on our town's taxpayers, the municipal portion of the tax on the average Vernon home, which is assessed at a value of $237,500, will be just $28 per year, or just $2.33 per month.

As you will see during this hearing, this is a very financially conservative budget that's prepared to cover the town's real and necessary needs, and not some unreal and unnecessary wants.

During this hearing, I plan to have each department head to share with the Council and the public a summary of (1) the 2021 projects undertaken by their departments, (2) some of the 2021 accomplishments of their departments, and (3) any trends or concerns that they have relative to their departments.

I look forward to a very positive and productive budget development and approval process.

Council Member Lynch thanked CFO Donelle Bright for preparing the budget and doing her due diligence with the budget and he likes the numbers that we have. He is asking that even though the budget is at a low 1.7%, he is asking the Mayor and the staff to make the budget a 0% increase or as close to that as possible. Council Member Lynch feels that everyone can work together to do this.

PUBLIC COMMENTS (For Current Agenda Items Only, Limited to 3 minutes per person)

Council President Rizzuto asked for a motion to open the meeting to Public Comments.
MOVED: Michael Furrey
SECOND: Brain Lynch
All members present voted in favor.

Bill DiResta - Vernon Township asked for a moment of silence for the 2nd anniversary of Covid. He would like the Mayor and Council to consider putting a memorial garden in the town for our neighbors who did not survive in town. Mr. DiResta also asked the town to work together to make a collection point for Ukraine in the Municipal Building.

Fred Nevback - Barry Lakes, challenged the Council to get the budget to a 0% increase and ask questions pertaining to increased programs or office staff.

Jessica Paladini - Vernon Township, feels that it is not right that people in Vernon pay the same amount of taxes as people who live in Tenafly, New Jersey. Ms. Paladini is hoping for a 0% tax increase.

Sean Clarkin - Barry Lakes, feels that the budget should have been made available to the public before introduction.

Council President Rizzuto explained that the budget is not available while it is being formulated.

Seeing no other members of the public wishing to speak, Council President Rizzuto asked for a motion to close the meeting for Public Comments.
MOTION: Michael Furrey
SECOND: Brain Lynch
All members present were in favor.

ITEM FOR DISCUSSION

2022 Proposed Municipal Budget

Each department in the Municipal Center presented their proposed 2022 budgets. The Council asked questions and gave suggestions where the proposed budgets for each department could be decreased.

  1. Tax Assessor
  2. Land Use
  3. Building Department
  4. Police, Dispatch, Animal Control & OEM
  5. Volunteer Services & Fire Prevention
  6. Tax Collection
  7. Department of Public Works
  8. Senior Center & Recreation
  9. Township Clerk
  10. Finance/Audit
  11. Municipal Court

PUBLIC COMMENTS (On any Topic, Limited to 5 Minutes per Person)

Council President Rizzuto asked for a motion to open the meeting to Public Comments.
MOVED: Michael Furrey
SECOND: Brian Lynch
All members present voted in favor.

Seeing no members of the public wishing to speak, Council President Rizzuto asked for a motion to close the meeting for Public Comments.
MOTION: Natalie Buccieri
SECOND: Michael Furrey
All members present were in favor.

COUNCIL COMMENTS

Council Member Buccieri thanked the municipal staff for staying here so late.

Council Member Furrey sent several questions to the Mayor which were all answered and he will send them to the other Council Members.

Council Member Lynch thanked CFO Bright, the Mayor and Mr. Voelker.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT COMMENTS

Council President Rizzuto commented saying that these sessions are not successful unless we look at the numbers, read the numbers and understand the numbers. It is obvious that everyone has been able to do that. He thanked CFO Bright, the Mayor and Business Administrator Voelker.

ADJOURNMENT

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

The Special Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was adjourned 11:38 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Marcy Gianattasio, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk

Minutes approved: April 11, 2022