Minutes: May 11, 2020

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 May 11, 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, CFO Donelle Bright and Township Attorney Josh Zielinski.

Salute to the Flag

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

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

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to open the meeting to public comments.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel
All members present voted 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 27, 2020 Regular Meeting

May 5, 2020 Special Meeting Minutes

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve the above meeting minutes.
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 the April 27, 2020 Regular Meeting Minutes and the May 5, 2020 Special Meeting Minutes.

Consent Agenda

Resolution #20-115: Resolution Authorizing the Application to the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice “Body Armor Replacement Program”

Resolution #20-116: Resolution Authorizing the Application to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs “Bullet Proof Vest Partnership/Body Armor Safety Initiative”

Resolution #20-118: Resolution Authorizing the Issuance of Not Exceeding $1,407,500 Bond Anticipation Notes of the Township of Vernon, in the County of Sussex, New Jersey

Council President Shortway read the title of the resolution.

Vice President Auberger asked to have Resolution #20-119 removed from the Consent Agenda and voted on separately.

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

Resolution #20-115: Resolution Authorizing the Application to the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice “Body Armor Replacement Program”

“Body Armor Replacement Program”

WHEREAS, the Vernon Township Police Department wishes to apply for funding to the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice for the Body Armor Replacement Fund Program, and

WHEREAS, the grant project consists of reimbursement for up to 50% of the expenses incurred to purchase new issue or replacement bullet proof vests for police officers, and

WHEREAS, Vernon Township will incur the cost of the program, and then submit the necessary documentation to the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice, for a fifty percent (50%) reimbursement.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Vernon Township declares its support for the “2020 Body Armor Replacement Program” Grant to outfit bullet proof vests for our newly hired police officers or replacement vests for our current police officers; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, by the Township Council of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, that the Mayor, Chief Finance Officer and Township Clerk are hereby authorized to execute and sign any and all documents in order to effectuate the receipt of the Grant monies between the Township of Vernon and the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice, for the “2020 Body Armor Replacement Program” Grant.

Resolution #20-116: Resolution Authorizing the Application to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs “Bullet Proof Vest Partnership/Body Armor Safety Initiative”

“Bullet Proof Vest Partnership/Body Armor Safety Initiative”

WHEREAS, the Vernon Township Police Department wishes to apply for funding to the U.S. Department of Justice for the Bullet Proof Vest Partnership/Body Armor Safety Initiative, and

WHEREAS, the grant project consists of reimbursement for up to 50% of the expenses incurred to purchase new issue or replacement bullet proof vests for police officers. “BVP is a critical resource for state and local jurisdictions that saves lives. Based on data collected and recorded by the U.S. Department of Justice, in FY 2012, protective vests were directly attributable to saving the lives of at least 33 law enforcement and corrections officers, in 20 different states, an increase 13.7% over FY 2011. At least 14 of those life-saving vests had been purchased, in part, with BVP funds.” (OJP website, U.S. Department of Justice 2013) This grant is committed to officer safety; and

WHEREAS, Vernon Township will incur the cost of the program, not to exceed $9,740.50 and then submit the necessary documentation to the U.S. Department of Justice for a fifty percent (50%) reimbursement.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Vernon Township declares its support for the “2020 Bullet Proof Vest Partnership/Body Armor Safety Initiative” Grant from June 1st, 2020 - December 31st, 2020 to outfit bullet proof vests for our newly hired police officers or replacement vests for our current police officers; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, by the Township Council of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, that the Mayor, Chief Finance Officer and Township Clerk are hereby authorized to execute and sign any and all documents in order to effectuate the receipt of the Grant monies between the Township of Vernon and the U.S. Department of Justice for the “2020 Bullet Proof Vest Partnership/Body Armor Safety Initiative” Grant.

Resolution #20-118: Resolution Authorizing the Issuance of Not Exceeding $1,407,500 Bond Anticipation Notes of the Township of Vernon, in the County of Sussex, New Jersey

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE TOWNSHIP COUNCIL OF THE TOWNSHIP OF VERNON, IN THE COUNTY OF SUSSEX, NEW JERSEY, AS FOLLOWS:

Pursuant to a bond ordinance of the Township of Vernon, in the County of Sussex (the “Township”) entitled: “Bond ordinance appropriating $2,380,870, and authorizing the issuance of $1,453,000 bonds or notes of the Township, for various improvements or purposes authorized to be undertaken by the Township of Vernon, in the County of Sussex, New Jersey,” finally adopted on April 23, 2018 (#18-17), bond anticipation notes of the Township in a principal amount not exceeding $1,407,500 shall be issued for the purpose of temporarily financing the improvement or purpose described in Section 3 of said bond ordinance, including (to any extent necessary) the renewal of any bond anticipation notes heretofore issued therefor.

All bond anticipation notes (the “notes”) issued hereunder shall mature at such times as may be determined by the treasurer, the chief financial officer or the acting chief financial officer of the Township (the “Chief Financial Officer”), provided that no note shall mature later than one year from its date. The notes shall bear interest at such rate or rates and be in such form as may be determined by the Chief Financial Officer and shall be signed and sealed by officials and officers of the Township in any manner permitted by N.J.S.A. §40A:2-25. The Chief Financial Officer shall determine all matters in connection with the notes issued hereunder, and the Chief Financial Officer’s signature upon the notes shall be conclusive evidence as to all such determinations. All notes issued hereunder may be renewed from time to time subject to the provisions of N.J.S.A. §40A:2-8. The Chief Financial Officer is hereby authorized to sell part or all of the notes at not less than par from time to time at public or private sale and to deliver them to the purchasers thereof upon receipt of payment of the purchase price. The Chief Financial Officer is directed to report in writing to the governing body of the Township at the meeting next succeeding the date when any sale or delivery of the notes hereunder is made. Such report must include the principal amount, interest rate and maturities of the notes sold, the price obtained and the name of the purchaser.

Any note issued pursuant to this resolution shall be a general obligation of the Township, and the Township’s faith and credit are hereby pledged to the punctual payment of the principal of and interest on the notes and, unless otherwise paid or payment provided for, an amount sufficient for such payment shall be inserted in the budget and a tax sufficient to provide for the payment thereof shall be levied and collected.

The Chief Financial Officer is hereby authorized and directed to do all other matters necessary, useful, convenient or desirable to accomplish the delivery of the notes to the purchasers thereof as promptly as possible, including (i) the preparation, execution and dissemination of a Preliminary Official Statement and Final Official Statement with respect to the notes, (ii) preparation, distribution and publication, if necessary, of a Notice of Sale with respect to the notes, (iii) execution of a Continuing Disclosure Undertaking, with respect to the notes in accordance with Rule 15c2-12 promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and (iv) execution of an arbitrage and use of proceeds certificate certifying that, among other things, the Township, to the extent it is empowered and allowed under applicable law, will do and perform all acts and things necessary or desirable to assure that interest paid on the notes is not included in gross income under Section 103 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.

All action heretofore taken by Township officials and professionals with regard to the sale and award of the notes is hereby ratified, confirmed, adopted and approved.

This resolution shall take effect immediately.

Upon motion of Mark Van Tassel seconded by John Auberger, the foregoing resolution was adopted by the following vote:

Ayes: FIVE
Nays: NONE

Resolution #20-119: Authorizing Mandatory Direct Deposit per N.J.S.A. 52:14-15(F)(2)(B)

Council Member Murphy asked if this resolution would negatively affect any employees who may not have a checking account.

CFO Bright told the Council that there are nine employees currently that receive a paper paycheck.

Vice President Auberger asked if there were any grievances filed on this.

Business Administrator Voelker responded saying that one of the three unions felt there could be a violation of the law although this is on the books that by statute this could be done.

Council Member Van Tassel asked if there are only nine people why can’t this be optional.

CFO Bright explained that it costs $25.00 per payroll for the checks along with check printing and envelopes. She also explained that with everything going on with the Covid-19 this would reduce multiple people touching the paychecks during signing.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve resolution #20-119.

There was no motion made.

Resolution #20-119 was not voted on.

Introduction/1st Reading of Proposed Ordinances

Ordinance #20-11: Bond Ordinance Appropriating $2,600,500, and Authorizing the Issuance of $2,132,857 Bonds or Notes of the Township, for Various Improvements or Purposes Authorized to Be Undertaken by the Township of Vernon, in the County of Sussex, New Jersey

Council President Shortway read a brief explanation of Ordinance #20-11.

Council Member Murphy commented that in this ordinance Vernon is to receive a $225,000 grant from the Department of Transportation. Council Member Murphy is concerned that the State of New Jersey will cancel this grant with everything happening with Covid -19.

CFO Bright explained that this grant has already been approved and Vernon received a letter stating that it was approved and she has not heard of the grant being taken back.

Council Member Murphy asked for a report when it is ready on what roads are slated to be paved this year.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Ordinance #20-11 for introduction.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: John Auberger, Jean Murphy, Mark Van Tassel, Kelly Weller, Harry Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion carries to approve Ordinance #20-11 for introduction.

Ordinance #20-12: Capital Ordinance Providing for Various Improvements by the Township of Vernon, in the County of Sussex, New Jersey, Appropriating Therefore the Sum of $396,550.00 and Providing That Such Sum So Appropriated Shall Be Raised from the Capital Improvement Fund and Capital Fund Balance of the Township

Council President Shortway read a brief explanation of Ordinance #20-12

Council Member Murphy questioned the $50,000 capital reserve for sewer repairs asking if there was a list of these repairs.

CFO Bright explained that it is a reserve for sewer repairs for sewer infrastructure.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Ordinance #20-12 for introduction.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: John Auberger, Mark Van Tassel, Kelly Weller, Harry Shortway
Nays: Jean Murphy
Abstain: None
Absent: None
Motion carries to approve Ordinance #20-12 for introduction.

Public Comments

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

Jackie Espinoza - JCP&L, introduced herself to the Mayor and Council. She wanted to reassure the Council that JCP&L has taken a lot of precautions in how they are conducting business. Some of the ways line workers are taking precautions is by having different reporting stations, not sharing vehicles and social distancing. Ms. Espinoza explained that The First Energy Foundation, JCP&L’s parent company, donated $10,000 to the food bank at Project Self Sufficiency. They also use the bus that comes out to all the different towns. They have done a great job to accelerate all of their matching gift contributions to United Way Agencies. Ms. Espinoza also explained that JCP&L would not have any power shut offs if someone cannot pay their electric bill. If anyone is in a situation where they cannot pay their bill they should call into the call center and make arrangements.

Jessica Paladini - Vernon Township, is surprised that the ordinances that are being adopted have no specification for what they are for as far as which roads, what equipment and what repairs. Ms. Paladini also explained that the general taxpayer has never paid for MUA repairs. Ms. Paladini is very concerned about the lack of transparency concerning the MUA and concerning the sewer meetings that have been taking place for months. She said the public doesn’t know anything and is not allowed to attend these meetings. Ms. Paladini mentioned that the MUA is conducting business through email and she feels that this is an open public meetings act violation. She said that there are over 100 emails between commissioners conducting business and she hopes that the Mayor and Council will do something about this. Ms. Paladini is also concerned that the MUA meeting minutes are not posted on the township website.

Thomas McClachrie - Vernon Township, is concerned that if there is a financial downfall this year or next year does the town have a plan. Mr. McClachrie also asked in which tax quarter will the reassessments begin.

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

Mayor’s Comments

Mr. Council President and other Council Members, because this coronavirus is in no way yet defeated, for an undetermined period of time in our future we in our town, our county, our state, and our nation will continue our coordinated efforts to keep the COVID-19 virus on the decline, and if possible, to prevent it from making a dramatic and devastating resurgent.

However, we in our town and in all other parts of our nation have begun to get our attitudes, outlooks and general frame of minds prepared to positively and successfully deal with adjusting to, and to the extent possible, reversing the strangle hold that this coronavirus has put on our economy.

Over this past week, I have seen some small, but positive and important, signs that Vernon Township is preparing to get its collective civic attitude, outlook and general frame of mind prepared to positively and successfully deal with the adjustments that are ahead of us; I have seen some small, but positive and important, signs that the VERNON CARES and VERNON STRONG attitudes will not be suppressed by this virus.

Just four of the small, but positive and important, signs that I have seen this week include:

  1. Our Municipal Office of Recreation and Community Affairs, working close with our Municipal Beautification Committee, to lift our civic sprits by hanging patriotic bunting in selected locations; posting American Flags along the full length of the walkway in front of the Municipal Center and at the entry to our beautiful and frequently visited Maple Grange Park; and, posting VERNON STRONG/VERNON CARES signs throughout the township.
  2. Our Municipal Beautification Committee working close with Chief Jason Alba and the Vernon Fire Department, and Council Vice President John Auberger, to finally get our holiday snow flake decorations taken down, and to soon be replaced with American flags.
  3. The outstanding Vernon Rotary Club, who last fall put up a breathtaking American Flag display, called “Flags for Heroes,” in front of the Vernon Fire Department on Route 515 - - on this past Saturday put up, in the same location, an equally breathtaking American Flag display honoring front-line healthcare workers and other essential business and governmental workers in our town and nation who have been, and who continue to be, so important in keeping our nation going during this coronavirus crisis. And ...
  4. The unsolicited and volunteer action on the part of one Vernon resident, Ms. Justine Van Blarcom, who planted spring flowers, in the blue and gold Vernon Township School District colors, in the planters located outside of the municipal center and other places in the township.

Now I understand that some may not view these as signs that are necessarily positive or important. For those who don’t, I ask that you please consider these words from our nation’s third president, Mr. Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson said “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude, outlook or frame of mind from achieving his goals; and nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude, outlook or frame of mind”

The types of small, but positive and important, signs that I have cited above contribute significantly to us acquiring the right mental attitude, outlook, and frame of mind needed to tackle the fast-coming and challenging economic future.

I end my comments with some positive economic news that also came my way this past week. This positive economic news came from Mr. Joe Hession, a local Vernon Township High School graduate, an individual who we are proud to call one of our own, and the CEO of Snow Operating and Mountain Creek. Mr. Hession informed me that as he had promised, he paid Mountain Creek’s second quarter property taxes in full on the first date that they were due, May 1st.

While the payment of all property taxes is important, Mr. Hession’s payment of Mountain Creek’s property taxes looms very big in our economic future because they are our town’s largest dollar volume taxpayer I thank Mr. Hession, again, for keeping his word!

The economic way forward for us, and the rest of our nation, won’t be simple or easy. However, if we learn to look at the glass of life that’s before us as being half full, rather than half empty, we have a much better chance of success.

Thank you, Mr. Council President and other Council Members.

Council Comments

Council Member Murphy thanked all of the tax payers who have the means to pay their 2nd quarter taxes.

Council Member Murphy explained that when the Beautification Committee first started, they worked very closely with JCP&L and Warwick Telephone to see what telephone poles could be utilized for flags. It was determined that the smaller flags were better for the telephone poles.

Council Member Murphy asked if there have been any complaints in regards to Short Term Rentals at this time.

Mayor Burrell said that there have been no complaints.

Council Member Murphy reported that homes and condominiums in the area that are for sale have been selling very quickly with multiple offers. She said people want to get out of the more congested areas.

Council Member Murphy explained that there were only three wastewater meetings on February 13th, February 20th and March 4th. She said that on April 28th Harry Shortway sent an email to all outlining where he thought the MUA should go and she thought that this was premature since they only have had three meetings. Council Member Murphy explained that she did respond to all saying she would reserve her comments till the next meeting. She said that after Paul Kearney responded and asked if a different email could be used and Peg Distasi responded to say to keep comments for the meeting, the attorney asked them not to reply to all. Council Member Murphy did not feel that Harry Shortway’s email was appropriate since there were only a few meetings.

Council Members Van Tassel and Weller had no comments.

Vice President Auberger had no comments.

Council President Comments

The Administration, our professionals and governing body are addressing the town center designation and Master Plan update at this time. We have engaged the DCA, DOT, DEP and Highlands by informing them of our status, challenges and economic studies and visions.

The Town Center Concept dates back to 1995, when the Master Plan was updated with the goal of balancing growth with natural resource protection. A multi-core, center-based development approach was decided.

In 1997, Vernon Town Center Advisory Committee was chartered to develop a strategy to implement the Town Center vision.

Some goals and objectives were as follows:

  • Focus growth in the Town Center core areas.
  • Develop a pedestrian friendly environment where people can park their car and walk to restaurants and shops in a compact area.
  • Reduce vehicle trips by encouraging walking within the Town Center.
  • Provide the convenience of new businesses for local residents.
  • Help expand the local tourism industry in the TWP by drawing more visitors to the area.
  • Partner with Mt. Creek to provide sewer service to the Town Center core and Mt. Creek core.

During the last several weeks the Chairman of the MUA and I have spent countless hours determining the status of the sewer service area expansion map, the operation and maintenance of our sewer system, and the status of replacing PS2. Mountain Creek is cooperating with us with PS2.

Ms. Bright and I had discussed the expansion with the NJDEP in late 2019. The proposed sewer service map will not be approved for another year. The NJDEP informed us that Environmental Sensitive Areas (EAS) existing in our current SSA will be removed. This relates to Town Center in that it may limit the ability to develop on Main Street.

Is Firemen’s Pond one of them?

If so, “Main Street” development could will be restricted and phase III for water is not a priority without a feasibility study and/or LOI from prospective developers.

We also learned that additional information was requested by the NJDEP prior to approval but former MUA officials did not respond.

In 2023, Lake Conway Dam improvements and SCMUA bonds will cost an additional $1,000,000 (approximately 5 tax points) requiring additional financing and/or increased property taxes and sewer rates if we don’t act now.

The MUA will collapse in 2023 without additional rate increases and EDUs. The MUA’s only assets are its receivables. Should the MUA collapse, all property taxpayers will be responsible for the 37% of the deficit including debt service created by ordinances 11-22 and 11-23 totaling over $6 M. (Read section 6 of the ordinances). How much more can the sewer rate payers afford?

Regarding Alternative Means of Transportation

Our current Master Plan and economic feasibility studies show that the development of pedestrian traffic in the TC is essential for success. This is an objective that I have championed for the last several years and the majority of the voters agree.

I will continue to push for the development of the TC trail and Bike Park to achieve the objectives established 25 years ago.

The majority of the Governing Body also agree, as evident by their support of an indirect Open Space Tax paid by short term rentals. The tax (paid by short term rentals) makes us eligible to receive tens of thousands of dollars for open space initiatives.

Pedestrian and biking initiatives were also discussed with the state agencies. We will continue to apply for state grants to help fund these projects with their assistance.

We do have funds (approved by voter referendum) and a preliminary plan for the trail and amenities.

Political opposition has stymied our efforts to accomplish the above objectives. We must go forward now to create economic sustainability before 2023. Opposition to pedestrian walkways and associated amenities failed to produce studies contrary to the economic feasibility of these objectives. They also have not presented an alternative plan for economic success. Their motives for obstruction are strictly political and without merit.

Easement challenges to the TC trail can be overcome by the purchase of an additional parcel with the OSF. We have the money and a resolution has been approved by the governing body for the trail and associated amenity development. The monies to develop the proposed alternative transportation routes will not affect property taxes.

The OSF funds can only be used to purchase additional Open Space, Farmland Preservation or pedestrian, biking (and even horse riding) trails and associated amenities. It cannot be used for anything else.

The time is now. Our community is challenged by a global pandemic and economic hardships. The proposed projects will produce jobs and confidence that our municipal government is moving towards economic sustainability.

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 Weller with all members voting in favor.

The meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was adjourned at 8:10 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Marcy Gianattasio, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk

Minutes approved: May 28, 2020