All meeting minutes posted on the township website are unofficial minutes. Official copies of minutes may be obtained from the township clerk.

Minutes: March 6, 2017*

Township Council Special Meeting

The special meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 6:00 p.m. on Monday March 6, 2017 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 February 7, 2017, 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 this meeting is to discuss Department Budget Presentations. Official Action may be taken.

Roll Call of Members

Present were Council Members Dan Kadish, Sandra Ooms, Patrick Rizzuto, Dick Wetzel and Council President Jean Murphy. Also present were Mayor Harry Shortway, CFO Elke Yetter, and Administrator Charles Voelker.

Salute to the Flag

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

Public Comments

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to open public comments.
Motion: Sandra Ooms
Second: Dan Kadish
All members were in favor.

Sally Rinker, requested Council to move public comments section to end of meeting after the budget discussions and Council agreed.

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to close public comments.
Motion: Sandra Ooms
Second: Dan Kadish
All members were in favor.

Items for Discussion

Budget Review

Ms. Yetter opened the discussion by summarizing the proposed 2017 budget for Council noting overall there would be a 2.6% increase with one tax point being $261,164.00. She added that Vernon’s goal should be to increase the fund balance to equal 10% of budget but in recent years it has been decreased. Ms. Yetter noted that miscellaneous revenue that is not anticipated (MRNA) can regenerate the fund balance but that is something the Township is unable to plan; examples being large construction projects. Ms. Yetter stated the budget is very conservative on amount of revenue. Ms. Yetter indicated the goals of the Administration and Finance officials is to increase revenue by selling tax liens and to sell township owned vacant property. Ms. Yetter added in 2016, Vernon paid down $2.1 million in principle and $830,000 in interest on its Municipal Debt. Ms. Yetter stated it is anticipated that in 2017 the Township will pay down $2.2 million in principle and $760,000 in interest. In 2017, we anticipate to bond $2.8 million for items including the Maple Grange Road Improvement project and purchase of required Fire Fighter self-contained breathing apparatus which may be supplemented with grant receivables.

Ms. Yetter offered four budget scenarios showing different amounts in tax collection, anticipated revenue with goal to regenerate fund balance and have adequate cash balance to operate. Mayor Shortway added Vernon must increase the fund balance to get back to levels to where we were three years ago, and noted the budget needs to regenerate fund balance going forward. Ms. Yetter explained that the proposed $2.8 million bond does not include hookup to water nor revaluation because both may not happen until 2018. Council Member Kadish asked if Vernon should stop utilizing BANS because of interest rates. Ms. Yetter noted the plan is to pay them before the township needs permanent financing.

Council Comments and Recommendations

Council Member Rizzuto opined that Vernon should hold off hiring personnel and Mayor Shortway explained that the DPW is down three employees this budget only hires one. Mayor Shortway noted the town has lowered total number of employees by six through attrition. Mayor Shortway added that the town has lost $82 million in assessments from 2012-2015 and in 2016 lost $12 million alone. He added residents are forced to pay for county services including the 911 system and solar project without getting any service or benefit.

Council Member Kadish questioned why the grant lines in the budget were blank which Ms. Yetter explains amounts are not entered until we receive the grant. He asked why PERS amount is rounded up to $500,000 and Ms. Yetter states $491,265 is calculated amount and extra will be needed to cover when the AFSCME contract is finally settled.

The Council discussed the proposed hiring of one new full-time for DPW and two part-time clerks, one to assist the clerk’s office and one to assist the fire prevention, zoning & building offices. Council Member Rizzuto asked why the Municipal Clerk is being used for non-clerk duties which takes her out of the office which Mr. Voelker explained meetings were minimal and it was better than paying for the Labor Attorney to attend negotiation meetings. Council Member Ooms asked if a non-credential person could benefit clerk’s office and Ms. Kirkman answered the coverage would help to complete statutory duties in a timely manner. Council Member Kadish asked if Fire Prevention trust account could offset office expenses but Ms. Yetter states there is no balance in the trust account. Mr. Voelker added that the previous clerk in Fire Prevention was transferred to Police due to a retirement, and clerk from tax collector moved to Fire Prevention and stressed that having available customer service for all departments is important. Mayor Shortway stated that DPW is struggling and needs a new hire, the construction official expects a significant increase in permits in 2017 and wants to add one hour a day for inspectors up to 40/week and fill the void of substitute electrical inspector. Ms. Kirkman noted OPRAs for the building, zoning and tax offices from title companies for public searches have increased dramatically and legally we must respond in seven business days. Council President Murphy stated the county has records online for public view and Ms. Yetter adds the proposed building software program may help alleviate these searches.

Council Member Rizzuto referred to the DPW Capital budget and questions why cars cannot have over 100,000 miles before being retired and asked why they are in such bad shape. Mayor Shortway explained we have met with the Mechanics and asked for a status report on all vehicles and will institute training for driving, maintenance and operations.

Council Member Ooms asked if the DPW capital budget can be lowered at all. Ms. Yetter explained it had already been dwindled down. Mayor Shortway added he has instituted new maintenance procedures including washing the undercarriages of all vehicles which will help prevent rusting and increase longevity.

Council Member Ooms asked about the improvements for Veterans Memorial Park. Ms. Yetter explained it includes playground equipment and replacement of the fence around the baseball fields. Council Member Kadish asked if any grants are available but Mayor Shortway added grant writers are too expensive and but he has tried to get volunteers involved.

Council Member Ooms asked if the Township has statistics about the use of ambulances. Mr. Voelker explains a reasonable sampling will be done after 30, 60, and 90 days to look at services provided by the outside provider who have recently been increased to covering Tuesday - Friday. He added this was due to volunteer availability; the schedule can be adjusted and added Mountain Creek utilizes Atlantic on the weekends but the National Winter Activity Center (NWAC) does not. Mr. Voelker added both squads are working together to make sure coverage is sufficient.

Council Member Kadish asked for ridership details from the county senior busing service as the budget amount seems high. Ms. Yetter stated we get the number of trips on each bill and only pay maximum of $50,000, the county pays anything over. Council President Murphy added that the senior citizens are taxpayers who should have the service of busing, if needed, noting they are the same taxpayers who pay for busing to the schools.

Council Member Kadish asked if Vernon will apply for grant for the Fire Truck purchase and Ms. Yetter explained the grant is highly competitive and the cost may be $1,000,000 but with the grant it may cost only $100,000 through use of National Contract. Ms. Yetter noted that recommendations for the specifications are being researched by Lou Tosto, Fire Marshal.

Council President Murphy questions what condition are the Crown Victoria vehicles that were bought in 2012 through bonding and have they been paid off prior to being replaced with SUVs. Ms. Yetter stated that automobiles are purchased outright from the capital budget and most vehicles after useful life in patrol, are used for other services. Mr. Voelker suggested to charge outside services for the use of the vehicles to cover costs which Ms. Yetter stated Vernon currently does not charge.

Public Comments

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to open public comments.
Motion: Patrick Rizzuto
Second: Dan Kadish
All members were in favor.

Sally Rinker, comments that Vernon needs to take fresh look at budget line items and not just continue doing it the same way. She added the 2017 budget is a challenge with many uncontrollable fixed costs but the Township needs to take a harder look. Ms. Rinker stated that Vernon has a declining population and services being the same, better utilization of employee duties such as the new part-time person assigned to write grants. In the Clerk’s office, an understanding of OPRA law is critical because if done incorrectly can subject Town to litigation. She felt that the budget areas to review are salaries, raises, retirement benefits, grants, greater economic development and tighter management.

Tom McClachrie, commented that municipalities seem to be in an information bubble always justifying expenses to revenues without stepping outside and thinking about the taxpayers. He added that over the last 5 or 6 years property taxes have increased but services went down and restates that the Board of Education and Township need to step out of bubble and justify expenses.

Anthony Ciaburri, teacher and robotics coach for Vernon Township, commented that 2017 team includes 40 students designing a robot who can climb a three-foot rope, gather wiffle balls and deposit them in container and interact with a human being. He explained the team competes in various competitions and would like to do presentation at future Council Meeting. He added the students perform different roles which include essays, writings, design, electrical or assembly. Funds come from fundraisers and a major contributor to all county teams including from Piccatiny Arsenal. Council approved to add presentation to the March 27, 2017 agenda.

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to close public comments.
Motion: Patrick Rizzuto
Second: Dan Kadish
All members were in favor.

Council Comments

Council President Murphy questioned if employee Jennifer Ruess went to school for grant writing and Ms. Yetter explained it was only one class, not a certification.

Council Member Ooms responded to Mr. McClachrie by refuting services have been lowered and agrees that Vernon needs more shared services to lower taxes. Mr. Voelker will explore more shared services but explains we would be at their discretion and not always available. He added that the county and the schools have the same obligation to control expenses. Ms. Yetter commented economic development is a good plan for the future of Vernon and to keep Vernon a nice place to live so new residents stay.

Council Member Wetzel agreed with the previous comments noting that progress is significant and we must pay for it. Council Member Ooms asked if the Shop Vernon program is still active. Ms. Yetter indicated it was and all costs are borne by the vendor and in 2016 residents earned $12,000 in tax credit. Council Member Kadish and President Murphy both feel assistance is needed in the Clerk’s Office to fulfill the time sensitive duties like OPRA.

Adjournment

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

The Regular Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was adjourned at 8:01 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Lauren Kirkman, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk

Minutes approved: April 10, 2017