Minutes: May 28, 2020

YouTube video of the May 28, 2020 council meeting »

The regular meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 7:00 p.m. on May 28, 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.

Council President Shortway asked for a moment of silence for Richard Wetzel who passed away. Mr. Wetzel was on the Township Council in 2011 and 2019. He was also a teacher in Vernon as well as a football coach.

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: Kelly Weller
All members present voted in favor.

Jessica Paladini - Vernon Township, commented on resolution #20-122 Resolution Authorizing Retention of Appraisal Services for Real Property Commonly Known as 8-20 Black Creek Drive and Identified as Lot 12, Block 391. Ms. Paladini said she understands that the Open Space fund is being used to purchase this property but she feels now is not the time to build trails or purchase property. She said we are facing a huge number of unemployed people, even bigger than the Great Depression. Ms. Paladini proposed that a referendum is put on the ballet for a vote to return the Open Space money to the public.

Sandra Ooms - Vernon Township, agrees with Ms. Paladini that we should return the Open Space money to the General Fund. She sees abuse with the money and said Governor Murphy indicated that New Jersey is going to experience financial Armageddon. Ms. Ooms feel that we need to be prepared and spending money is not the right thing to do right now. Open Space money would be more productive in the general budget. Trails are not going to help people stay in their homes or bring development. Ms. Ooms said decreasing taxes would help people stay in their homes.

Thomas McClachrie - Vernon Township, asked why we are getting a second appraisal from the same company. Mr. McClachrie said that he has reviewed Vernon’s 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 budgets and he compared them with the County’s abstract of ratables, and they are completely different. Mr. McClachrie commented that about three years ago the County did a referendum for the Open Space and it was reauthorized. He feels that because Vernon’s totals and the County’s totals are different, someone needs to check the numbers for accuracy.

Peg Distasi - Vernon Township, commented that at this time she feels Vernon should not be spending money to purchase any Open Space. She feels that we have a lot of debt coming due over the next few years and there are major decisions to be made. Ms. Distasi feels that at this time it is not proper or prudent to purchase Open Space that we do not need. She said she is in favor of trails but not at this time.

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: Mark Van Tassel
Second: John Auberger
All members were in favor.

Minutes

May 11, 2020 Regular Meeting

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve the above meeting minutes.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
Nays:
Abstain:
Absent:
Motion carried to approve the May 11, 2020 Regular Meeting Minutes.

Consent Agenda

  • Resolution #20-121: Authorize the Award of a Required Disclosure Contract with “Host Compliance LLC” for Compliance Software
  • Resolution #20-123: Resolution Honoring the Vernon Township High School Senior Class of 2020 and Designating Main Street as “2020 Senior Drive”
  • Resolution #20-125: Refund Overpayment Due to State Tax Court Judgement (DeSomma) Block 599 Lot 55
  • Resolution #20-126: Refund Overpayment Due to State Tax Court Judgement (Krieger) Block 526 Lot 233
  • Resolution #20-127: Refund Overpayment Due to State Tax Court Judgement (Krieger) Block 526 Lot 233
  • Resolution #20-128: Refund Overpayment Due to State Tax Court Judgement (Mc Cain) Block 307 Lot 1
  • Resolution #20-129: Refund Overpayment Due to State Tax Court Judgement (Mc Cain) Block 307 Lot 1
  • Resolution #20-130: Resolution Authorizing the Purchase and Installation of Ultra-Violet Cleaning Lights in HVAC System by Air Group, LLC

Council President Shortway read the titles of the resolutions

Council Member Murphy asked to have Resolutions #20-120, #20-122 and #20-124 removed from the Consent Agenda.

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

Resolutions

Resolution #20-120: Resolution of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon Authorizing the Award of Property Reassessment Services through the Competitive Contracting Process CC#3-2020

Council Member Murphy pointed out a mistake in the last paragraph of the resolution. The Municipal Clerk will correct the mistake in the resolution.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-120.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Mark Van Tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
Nays:
Abstain:
Absent:
Motion carried to approve Resolution #20-120.

Resolution #20-124: Authorizing Issuance of Estimated Property Tax Bills

Council Member Murphy asked if the State is requiring every municipality to send out estimated tax bills.

CFO Bright explained that it is not mandated but if we do not send out estimated tax bills we will not receive certified rates anytime soon. She said that we have been sending out estimated tax bills for the last few years and it is very important to do to have proper cash flows for the Municipality.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to approve Resolution #20-124.
Moved: Kelly Weller
Second: Mark Van Tassel

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
Nays:
Abstain:
Absent:
Motion carried to approve the consent agenda.

Resolution #20-122: Resolution Authorizing Retention of Appraisal Services for Real Property Commonly Known as 8-20 Black Creek Drive and Identified as Lot 12, Block 391 on the Tax Map of the Township of Vernon

Council Member Murphy explained that Mayor Burrell has been in touch with Andy Mulahill to inquire a sewer easement. Council Member Murphy questioned why we would be taking a ten-acre piece of property out of the sewer service area when we are trying to get people to buy property in the sewer service area to develop. If Vernon buys this property for a trail there will be no development on the property.

Council Member Murphy said a couple of years ago the voters did agree to have 30% come out of Open Space Fund to use for trails.

Council Member Auberger made a motion to table Resolution #20-122.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Jean Murphy

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Auberger, Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller
Nays: Shortway
Abstain:
Absent:
Motion carried to table Resolution #20-122

Public Hearing/2nd Reading of 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 by title Ordinance #20-11.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to open public hearing for Ordinance #20-11.
Moved: Kelly Weller
Second: Mark Van Tassel
All members were in favor.

Thomas McClachrie - Vernon Township, feels that anything over $500,000 being bonded should be going to the public for a vote. He said that the public should be able to participate in the expenditure of their money especially at this time when the economy is in such bad shape.

Jessica Paladini - Vernon Township, asked if there were any funds appropriated for the fire departments in this bond ordinance.

CFO Bright said yes that there are funds appropriated for fire equipment and a vehicle.

Ms. Paladini feels that Council Member Auberger is in conflict to vote on this ordinance because of his affiliation to the Fire Department. Ms. Paladini sent her opinion to the Township Attorney.

Township Attorney Zielinski said he disagreed with Ms. Paladini’s opinion.

Council Member Auberger explained that in the past he has asked the Township Attorney if it was a conflict to vote on the budget and he was always told that there was no conflict. Council Member Auberger said he does not own any stock in a company that is building, supplying or doing anything to make a dollar on this. He abstains from voting on new members of the Fire Department. He said that if the Attorney for the Council says he can vote on something he will vote on it and if not he will abstain.

Ms. Paladini said that if Council Member Auberger refuses to do the ethical thing he should be prepared for that challenge.

Sandra Ooms - Vernon Township, said that when the Council is on Zoom the public can see and hear what is being said.

Seeing no more members of the public wishing to come forward, Council President Shortway asked for a motion to close public hearing for Ordinance #20-11.
Moved: Kelly Weller
Second: John Auberger
All members were in favor.
Motion passed close to public hearing for Ordinance #20-11.

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to adopt Ordinance #20-11.
Moved: Mark Auberger
Second: Kelly Weller

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: Auberger
Absent: None
Motion passed to adopt Ordinance #20-11

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 asked for a motion to open public hearing for Ordinance #20-12.
Moved: John Auberger
Second: Kelly Weller
All members were in favor.

Jessica Paladini - Vernon Township, asked if there are any appropriations for the fire departments.

CFO Bright said yes there are appropriations for the fire departments.

Ms. Paladini asked Council Member Auberger to do the right thing when it comes to voting for this ordinance.

Seeing no more members of the public wishing to come forward, Council President Shortway asked for a motion to close public hearing for Ordinance #20-12.
Moved: Mark Van Tassel
Second: Kelly Weller
All members were in favor.
Motion passed close to public hearing for Ordinance #20-12

Council President Shortway asked for a motion to adopt Ordinance #20-12.
Moved: Mark Auberger
Second: Kelly Weller

A roll call vote was taken:
Ayes: Murphy, Van Tassel, Weller, Shortway
Nays: None
Abstain: Auberger
Absent: None
Motion passed to adopt Ordinance #20-12.

Public Comments

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

Sandra Ooms - Vernon Township, would like reiterate what she said earlier about Governor Murphy saying New Jersey is going to experience financial Armageddon and cuts will be forthcoming. She explained that NJ. Com just reported that Governor Murphy said there will be cuts to police, fire and healthcare workers if we do not receive federal aid. Ms. Ooms said when she looks at the budget it seems that Vernon thinks that after the pandemic is over it will come out unscathed. She is disturbed that the taxpayers are paying for a rec project costing over $150,000 when in 2019 $300,000 was reserved for Open Space. Ms. Ooms feels it is abusive to have this as a capital project and have the taxpayers pay for it. Ms. Ooms also mentioned in 2019 raising the fund balance because the fund balance was so very low. Ms. Ooms feels the Council should be freezing salaries or giving low modest pay raises and a having a hiring freeze. Ms. Ooms mentioned having a ballet question to return this money to the citizens. She feels that a one-mile trail will not bring development to Vernon.

Peg Distasi - Vernon Township, commented that the responsibility of the Council is to protect its residents and she does not feel that this is happening. Ms. Distasi feel that there are members of the Council who only say yes, have no comments, ask no questions and never challenge anything. Ms. Distasi said that being on the Council, your responsibility is to evaluate and check what is going on. Ms. Distasi thanked Council Member Murphy for speaking up about details that she sees that are not for the benefit of the town. She also feels that Ms. Paladini knows the law and is only out to protect the town. Also, Ms. Ooms sat on the Council and she knows what is right and she bought up some good points. Ms. Distasi’s only concern is for the benefit of the people of this town and she feels we should not have expenditures right now in this economy.

Thomas McClachrie - Vernon Township, feels that Council Member Auberger does not take any actions that are beneficial to himself and he is looking out for the people of the township.

Mr. McClachrie said that after reading the newspaper today he feels that the police officer is going to cost the town a lot of money.

Mr. McClachrie asked the Council to check the CFO’s numbers because he feels that compared to the County’s numbers they are incorrect.

Jessica Paladini - Vernon Township, responded to Mr. McClachrie saying if John Auberger is right or wrong he should read the law. She commented on Mr. McClachrie’s comments on error in the budget. Saying he supported the budget for all these years. Ms. Paladini says she cares about the town. Ms. Paladini feels that if the Baldwin property is in 200 feet of a fire department John Auberger is in conflict if he votes on it.

Ms. Paladini commented that there are still no minutes on the Township website from any other boards and that is a violation of the law.

Ms. Paladini spoke to Council President Shortway saying that he wants to spend Open Space money on a community garden and a dog park. She feels that he put the Historical Society out of a home by demanding that the BOA Education remove them from the building that was promised to be theirs forever.

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: Mark Van Tassel
Second: Kelly Weller
All members were in favor.

Mayor’s Comments

Mr. Council President and other Council Members, my report tonight covers three items:

Item No. 1: The Mayor’s Office is actively involved in the planning and preparation process for that time:

When we will first, end the practice of having half of our personnel to work at their municipal work locations for a two-week period, while the other half work from home where they self-quarantine themselves for a two-week period (the CDC’s estimated incubation period of the Coronavirus).

That practice has so for proven to be wise and successful for us, in that through this date, we have not had a single one of our municipal employees to test positive for the COVID-19 virus.

And when we will second, finally reopen the Municipal Center to the public.

As we look at what other municipalities in Sussex County are doing in this regard, it’s our understanding that Hopatcong’s Municipal Center has reopened with some significant public limitations; Lafayette opened its Municipal Center to the public two days ago, on May 26; Newton plans to open its Municipal Center to the public on June 6; and the other 20 municipalities in our county have not yet decided when they will open their Municipal Centers to the public.

A key factor in determining just when we will be able to bring our full staff back to the Municipal Center, will be our ability to make the planned changes and enhancements needed to protect both our municipal employees and the public who will enter the Municipal Center for business and services.

We have already purchased the equipment and a supply of approved sanitizer that will enable us to effectively and efficiently disinfect the Municipal Center on a required basis.

We have supplied, and will continue to supply, our Municipal Center employees with appropriate gloves and masks/face coverings as needed.

On Tuesday, we received the acrylic panels needed to install protective clear barriers at those municipal service counters where the public must interact with a municipal employee. We plan to have their installation complete by the middle of next week.

We have ordered the materials that will enable us to provide markings which identify required 6 feet social distancing while waiting to do business at a municipal service counter.

And thanks to your approval tonight of Resolution # 20-130, we will enter our order for the purchase and installation of an Ultra-Violet Cleaning Lights system that will be installed in the Municipal Center’s HVAC system, so as to reduce the likelihood that our HVAC system will expose either visitors to the Municipal Center or employees who work in the Municipal Center to the COVID-19 virus.

I will of course, keep you appropriately informed of our Municipal Center reopening plans.

Item No. 2: Is the need for our town to increase the level at which we are self-responding to the 2020 Census.

As of this date, the national self-response rate is 60.1%; the New Jersey self-response rate is 62.1%; the Sussex County self-response rate is 64.4%; and our town’s self-response rate is just 54.3%. I encourage all Vernon residents who have not yet self-responded to the census to please do so. I have responded for my household. It was easy and simple to do, and took about three minutes.

Item No. 3: Is reflected in this banner that I hope that you can see behind me.

This banner represents a significant achievement for Vernon Township. Our town has again been recognized by the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute as a Healthy Town. This award and the rigorous standards of performance that are necessary for its achievement, are validations of the success of our on-going efforts to make Vernon Township an even better town in which to live and raise a family, as well as a town where businesses want to locate and prosper.

While this award was received by me, it’s based on former Mayor Harry Shortway’s leadership during 2019. I must tell you, that the longer that I sat in the mayor’s office, the stronger my appreciation for the difficulty of the challenges that former Mayor Shortway faced in leading our town, and the greater the degree of respect that I have for him and the quality of the job that he did.

I want to also recognize Mishelle Downtain, our town’s Director of Recreation and Community Affairs, for the key role that she played in leading our Mayors Wellness Team in the planning, organizing, directing and coordinating functions required in researching and gathering the information and data needed for our town’s application to be considered for this prestigious award.

Mr. Council President and other Council Members, that ends my meeting report.

Council Comments

Council Member Murphy mentioned that she did ask for cuts to the budget on items that were not going to be used this year because of the Covid-19 and she was against the $1,000,000 being used from the fund balance.

Council Member Murphy asked if there was a status on the Brook Hollow bridge. She said that no work has been done and someone needs to look into this.

Council Member Murphy commented that the Lake Panorama wall is beautiful but there was some controversy on the placement and she asked what is the status of this.

Council Member Murphy is very concerned about the Acme entrance. She said the tractor trailer crashed through that intersection a year and a half ago and it looks like a disaster area.

Council Member Murphy spoke about an email sent by Council President Shortway on April 28th that had to do with the sewer. Council Member Murphy referenced Ordinances #11-22 and #11-23 for the sewer purchase and the spending of the money. Council Member Murphy also mentioned Ordinance #11-05. She discussed Resolution #11-41 that was adopted on February 14, 2011 and was a resolution of the Township of Vernon making an application to the Local Finance Board. Council Member Murphy feels that these important documents paved the way for the future administrations to actually do what the administration of Vic Marotta did.

Council Member Murphy also said she heard that had Vernon not purchases the sewer system it United Water was going to sell it to SCUMA for $1.00 and she finds this disturbing. Council Member Murphy said that there are boxes and boxes of sewer documents and good reasons why it is stalling.

Council Member Van Tassel had no comments.

Council Member Weller commented that it was wonderful to see the community have their first farmer’s market of the season and to see people out social distancing properly. She feels that given the circumstances it was a great event and she thinks that the vendors were happy to have people there supporting them. Council Member Weller is looking forward to the next event and she knows that it has been difficult with people not being able to see each other.

Council Member Auberger thanked all of the emergency medical services for going down on Memorial Day to the flag.

Council President Comments

Council President Shortway commented that our emergency services have done a great job through this whole pandemic and the community has come together.

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 Van Tassel with all members voting in favor.

The meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was adjourned at 8:27 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Marcy Gianattasio, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk

Minutes approved: June 26, 2020