Monthly Archives for April 2020

Mayor Burrell’s Comments at the Town Council Meeting

Posted: April 27, 2020

Mayor Burrell made the following comments at the April 27, 2020 town council meeting:

Mr. Council President and other council members, as you are no doubt aware, many of the comments from our national and state political leaders over the past several days have centered around when and how we should “reopen” of our economy and, thereby limit, and hopefully bring an end to, this disastrous coronavirus led national economic decline.

On today, Governor Phil Murphy announced that his “Stay-At-Home Executive Order,” which has been in effect since March 21, will remain in effect in its entirety until further notice. He also listed the following six key principles and metrics that will guide his process for lifting restrictions and restoring New Jersey’s economic health by restoring its public health:

  1. A demonstration of sustained reductions in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalization.
  2. An expansion of New Jersey’s COVID-19 testing capacity.
  3. The implementation of a robust contract tracing system.
  4. The availability of secure, safe places and resources for isolation and quarantine of individuals who test positive for the COVID-19 virus in the future.
  5. The ability to execute a responsible economic restart. And…
  6. The ability to ensure New Jersey’s resiliency against a possible resurgence of the virus.

As you are aware, as part of the host of measures that we in Vernon Township have implemented to keep our employees and the public safe, and to limit the opportunity for this virus to spread, we:

  1. Closed our senior. This is an action that we took on March 13, a full week before the governor’s stay-at-home executive order;
  2. Declared a municipal state of emergency, resulting in:
    1. The closing of public access to our municipal center and our police department;
    2. The complete closing of one of our two municipal parks, and at the other park, closing off any use or access to playground equipment, any sports and recreation equipment; and, the posting of signs forbidding any group or other activities that could not be done without social distancing.
  3. Put off/postponed any municipal sponsored civic events and activities that could not be conducted under the social distancing guidelines. And…
  4. Figured out a way to maintain our ability to continue to provide basic services to the residents of Vernon, while at the same time allowing half of our municipal employees to work from home for a two week period (according to the CDC, the incubation period for the COVID-19 virus) while self-quarantining.

And just as our governor has been planning for the reopening of our state’s economy, Business Administrator Volker and I have been planning to address those issues, some of which the mayor and the council will have to face and figure out together, that are related to us being able to safely, effectively and efficiently reopen and put back into full, normal operation, important town resources such as our municipal center, our senior center, our police department, our department of public works and all other town resources and services.

As to the question of when we will reopen and put town resources and services back into full, normal operation—we will be guided by the governor’s directives. As it relates to the specifics of how we will do this—we will ensure that that we clearly and timely inform the public and the council of our intended actions.

With second quarter property tax payments coming due May 1, over the past several weeks that I and other New Jersey mayors have had weekly COVID-19 related phone conferences with the governor’s office, we have all asked about possible administrative or legislative authority that would allow us to extend the May 1 property tax payment date. However, it is with regret that I must advise that as of this date, no such authority has been granted.

On another tax payment related matter, for years the town’s policy has been that those few individuals who still pay their property taxes in cash, must make such payments in person at the tax collector’s window in the municipal center. Since measures to protect both the public and our municipal employees have resulted in the municipal center being closed to the public, we will accommodate those who want to pay their taxes in cash by giving them the opportunity to make an appointment with the tax collector’s office for a specific day and time for them to bring their cash tax payments to the municipal center, where they will be greeted at a temporary tax payment station that will be set up at the front door of the municipal center. At this station, their cash payments will be accepted and counted in their presence, and they will be given a receipt for their payment.

This is part of our ongoing effort to do our best to serve the residents of Vernon Township.

I end my comments with the latest update quantifying the degree of pain and suffering that this COVID-19 virus is inflecting on our county and our town. As of today, Vernon Township has 98 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 11% of Sussex County’s total of 876; and 6 COVID-19 related deaths, 6% of Sussex County’s total of 93.

Thank you Mr. Council President and other council members.

Howard L. Burrell, Mayor

Sussex County Residents Can Access CCM Drive-Thru Test Center

Posted: April 14, 2020

Updated June 19, 2020: The Sussex County testing site has closed. The Morris County testing site will close June 26, 2020.

Updated May 12, 2020: Sussex County is now offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing at Sussex County Community College, One College Hill Road in Newton. More information

The COVID-19 drive-thru testing center at County College of Morris in Randolph will begin to accept a select number of Sussex County residents for daily, weekday appointments for the virus testing starting later this week.

While the site will continue to predominantly provide tests for Morris County residents, about 75 appointments will be set aside for people who reside in Sussex County. The remainder of approximately 240 appointments each day will be reserved for Morris County residents who are showing potential signs of having the virus.

Beginning Monday, June 8, 2020, prescriptions will no longer be required to make an appointment. Residents are eligible for testing whether or not they are experiencing symptoms.

Only residents who have properly signed-up for an appointment will be allowed at the testing site.

IMPORTANT: To be tested, you must be in a vehicle, must have identification and must have an appointment.

For information and to make an appointment, residents should visit the Morris County Office of Health Management website.

Recreational Bathing Facilities to Remain Closed

Posted: April 9, 2020

In keeping with Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 107, all recreational bathing facilities are currently closed until further notice.

The Sussex County Department of Health and Human Services Division of Health is not able to predict, if or when, the recreational facilities will be permitted to open this year.

Recreational bathing facilities are considered locations where large numbers of individuals may gather in congregation when physical proximity to other individuals may be dangerous and individuals may encounter common surfaces. Examples include bathing beaches, pools, hot tubs, spas, spray parks, wading pools, waterparks, etc.

For more information, visit the New Jersey Department of Health website.

USDA Offers Programs to Help Rural Residents & Businesses

Posted: April 9, 2020

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented a number of measures to help rural residents and businesses affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

These measures include opportunities for immediate relief as well as extended application deadlines for several programs.

View complete details

Vernon Township Mayor’s Updated Statement on the Coronavirus

Posted: April 8, 2020

My Vernon Family,

On Tuesday, April 7, Governor Murphy closed all county and state parks, “including lands under the Department of Environmental Protection’s jurisdiction.”

The governor stated that he had closed county and state parks and “other lands under the Department of Environmental Protection’s jurisdiction” as a result of actions by park goers that were “inconsistent with and threatens to undermine the social mitigation strategies necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19, creating risks to public health.”

He added that recent instances of non-compliance with social distancing guidelines have continued in the state parks, forests and other lands under the Department of Environmental Protection’s jurisdiction despite verbal warnings and orders to disperse gatherings, despite ejections from the parks, and despite the issuance of violation citations by law enforcement.

I am pleased and proud to say that the kind of arrogant, disrespectful, and uncaring behavior, plus the disregard for the rule of law that’s described in the governor’s comments above, is not at all what we have observed or experienced on the part of those Vernon Township residents who have used Maple Grange Park.

In fact, as I said in my last update, I and others who have focused on monitoring Maple Grange Park have concluded that park users are following the social distancing guidelines. And, when users have been observed interacting in a group, inquiries have found that they have been primarily family members using the park as a way of getting out of the house for some mental/emotional relief.

In addition, recently I have noticed that a growing number of those using the park are wearing masks or other types of face coverings.

I am attempting to find out, but don’t know at this time, if the governor’s order to close all state parks and “other lands under the Department of Environmental Protection’s jurisdiction” includes the Appalachian Trail.

Our efforts in conjunction with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and specifically the enhanced monitoring by the Vernon Police Department, has all but eliminated any traffic/walkers at the boardwalk section of the Appalachian Trail on Route 517. If the governor’s executive order does cover all portions of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey, it would go a long way to helping us to eliminate the traffic and walkers at the other primary entry point to the Appalachian Trail that’s in our town—the “Stairway to Heaven” entry point off of Route 94.

As it relates to Maple Grange Park, let me be clear—

  • I have chosen to close the park’s fields, basketball court and playgrounds, and all other parts of the park to any group activity that can’t be undertaken without violating the group gathering and/or social distancing rules/guidelines. And, I have made this choice because of my responsibility to do what I can to keep Vernon residents safe, and to ensure that we as a town do our part to flatten the coronavirus curve by preventing/limiting its spread.
  • I have chosen to keep the park open for that large group of Vernon residents who daily use the park’s walking paths—while responsibly practicing social distancing—and others like them who use the park as a town resource for necessary outdoor mental, emotional and physical relief during these times when this virus has us all hunkered down in our homes.
  • If, for one minute, I receive evidence or otherwise come to believe that my decision to keep Maple Grange Park open contributes to the problem of keeping Vernon residents safe, or to ensuring that we as a town do our part to flatten the coronavirus curve by preventing/limiting its spread, I will close the park.

The threat that this coronavirus presents to us is quantified in the latest figures—

  • While Vernon Township does not, at this point in time, have the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county—Andover has 51, Sparta has 50, Hopatcong has 40, and Newton has 39—through today, we do have 33, or 9% of Sussex County’s total.
  • Sussex County has 355 confirmed COVID-19 cases, or .7% of New Jersey’s total.
  • New Jersey has 47,437 confirmed COVID-19 cases, or 11% of our nation’s total of 425.107.

I know and understand that this virus is dangerous, out of control, and scary, however, I have no doubt that “we will overcome” this; and that “this too shall pass.”



Howard L. Burrell, Mayor

Vernon Township Mayor’s Updated Statement on the Coronavirus

Posted: April 6, 2020

Vernon Family,

Effective yesterday at 8:00 p.m., Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, New Jersey State Director of Emergency Management, gave me and other New Jersey mayors a new tool that we could use in our ongoing efforts to keep our residents safe and to reduce/prevent the potential for the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Under the authority granted me by Colonel Callahan’s Administrative Order No. 2020-8, I have issued an order that restricts any Vernon Township located “hotel, motel, guest house, or private residence, or parts thereof” from accepting “new transient guests or seasonal tenants” after April 6, 2020 at 4:00 p.m., until further notice from the Vernon mayor’s office.

This restricts Airbnb, other online marketplaces, and any other organization or individual from arranging or offering short-term rental lodging in Vernon Township.

I issued this order out of the concerns about an influx of new visitors to our town during the current public health emergency. Although Vernon Township ordinarily welcomes all visitors, at this time we must take all available steps to enforce social distancing recommendations and limit nonessential travel to our town.

We have also been vigilant in our ongoing monitoring of Maple Grange Park and the two key Appalachian Trail entry points in our town—i.e., the boardwalk section off of Route 517 and the “Stairway to Heaven” entry point off of Route 94.

Since we are not able to monitor Maple Grange Park on a 24/7 basis, I can’t say that there are no social distance violations, however, what I can say is that I or others who have focused on monitoring this park have concluded that users are following the social distancing guidelines. When users have been observed interacting in a group, inquiries have found that they have been primarily family members using the park as a way of getting out of the house for some mental/emotional relief.

Some enhanced monitoring by the Vernon Police Department seems to have significantly reduced the number (but not all) of individuals who are choosing to ignore the electronic “trail closed” sign and the snow fencing blocking easy entry to the boardwalk section of the Appalachian Trail on Route 517. To the extent that our resources will enable us to do so, we will continue our vigilance here also.

While the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the New Jersey State Park Service have not formally “closed” access to the trail at the “Stairway to Heaven” entry point off of Route 94, they have assigned park stewards who are limiting the number of individuals who can access the trail from this location at any single time, and are specifically advising all trail walkers to practice social distancing.

From my prospective, this coronavirus is no joke.

There is a growing body of evidence that people who are infected with the COVID-19 virus can spread the virus before they develop symptoms or in the absence of symptoms. And, because the CDC believes that wearing a cloth face covering may help prevent the spread of the virus by those individuals who are infected and do not know it, during this weekend they recommended the use of cloth face coverings in community settings.

In addition, the CDC has said that during the coming months, they believe that most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus, and that they expect more illnesses, hospitalizations and unfortunately deaths.

As I said, this coronavirus is no joke.

As to our local situation, as of today, we in Vernon Township have had 27 confirmed COVID-19 cases (9% of the county’s total of 301) and 3 COVID-19 related deaths. One of those deaths came today—a 76-year-old male.

We Americans are a very self-reliant and individualistic group of people, however, reducing the spread of this coronavirus is not something that we can do alone; we must all accept our responsibility to do our part by practicing social distancing, avoiding large crowds and gatherings, practicing good hand hygiene, and staying home if we are sick.

As your mayor, I will continue to make all reasonable and appropriate use of every tool that’s available to me to do what I can to help keep you safe, and to ensure that Vernon Township plays its role in breaking the back of this awful virus.


Howard L. Burrell, Mayor

Vernon Township Mayor’s Updated Statement on the Coronavirus

Posted: April 3, 2020

Vernon Family, today we had 4 more new confirmed COVID-19 case—a 42-year-old female, a 57-year-old male, a 64-year-old female, and a 67-year-old female. This brings our total number of confirmed COVID-19 case to 24.

There were 28 new confirmed cases in our county today, bringing our county’s total to 185.

Vernon’s 24 confirmed COVID-19 case equal 11% of the county’s total.

The county also had 2 more COVID-19 related deaths—an 80-year-old male and a 92-year-old female—bringing our county’s COVID-19 related death total to 9.

The 92-year-old male who died today was a Sparta resident; and, while the 80-year-old male who died today was listed as a Newton death because he died in an assisted living facility in Newton, he was actually a Vernon resident.

I and the other mayors in Sussex County have repeatedly asked, at the county and state levels, that there be a COVID-19 testing site in our county. The response has been that due to the limited number of COVID-19 test kits available nationally and in New Jersey, plus the limited availability of personal protection equipment for the health workers who would do the testing, there is no ability to establish a testing site in our county at this time.

I have learned that there has been a total of 522 Sussex County residents tested for the COVID-19 virus, and that 309 or 59% of them tested negative, and 213 of 41% tested positive.

That’s it for today. While these are uncertain times, I ask that you join me in embracing and looking this uncertainty squarely in the eyes, with the knowledge that some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives don’t have a title until much later.

We can get through this because VERNON CARES, and we are collective VERNON STRONG!


Howard L. Burrell, Mayor

Disaster Response Crisis Counselors are Available

Posted: April 3, 2020

As part of the county’s emergency response to COVID-19, the Sussex County Division of Health (SCDOH) has called upon Sussex County’s active Disaster Response Crisis Counselors (DRCCs) to aid residents who may be experiencing mental health or emotional difficulties during this stressful and challenging time.

DRCCs are trained to provide disaster mental health services, including psychological first aid and crisis counseling. DRCCs are certified through the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services Disaster and Terrorism Branch, along with the Mental Health Association of New Jersey and the Certification Board of New Jersey, Inc.

A Disaster Response Crisis Counselor may be reached through the Sussex County Division of Health COVID-19 Hotline at 973.579.9488. SCDOH staff and Sussex County Medical Reserve Corps volunteers are also available to answer other questions related to COVID-19. The hotline’s hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Residents are also encouraged to visit the Sussex County website for the latest information on COVID-19 from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The New Jersey Poison Control Center and 2-1-1 have also partnered with the state to provide information to the public on COVID-19. Residents may call 2-1-1 or 1.800.962.1253 or text NJCOVID to 898.211.

Vernon Township Mayor’s Updated Statement on the Coronavirus

Posted: April 1, 2020

Vernon Family, this is a good day—for the first day within the last six days, Vernon Township did not have any new confirmed COVID-19 cases, or a COVID-19 related death!!

However, in our county, there were 28 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, and two more COVID-19 related deaths.

Sussex County now has a total of 165 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and seven COVID-19 related deaths.

While we had no confirmed COVID-19 cases today, we should not forget that COVID-19 continues to spread with exponential growth in the United States and, therefore, we should not become overconfident or complacent in terms of our practice of behaviors that have been proven to flatten the coronavirus curve by preventing/limiting its spread—i.e., practicing social distancing, avoiding large crowds and gatherings, practicing good hand hygiene, and staying home if we are sick.

Since the first U.S. case of the COVID-19 was identified in the state of Washington on January 21, 2020, health officials have identified more than 186,000 cases across the United States and more than 4,000 COVID-19 related deaths. By March 17 of this year, the virus had expanded its presence from several isolated clusters in the states of Washington, New York and California, to all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Let’s continue to be vigilant!

A day of no new confirmed COVID-19 cases gives me the opportunity to focus on a conversation that my wife, Reba, and I had this weekend.

Reba, who I can always count on for a positive thought, commented to me about the strong, positive responses and support that our community has received from our town’s merchants and their employees, who have put themselves at risk in order to remain open and serve our community; and about our town’s businesses and many groups and individuals who have been very creative with ideas/suggestions for helping those Vernon residents in need.

While this is by no means a complete list, the nature and extent of the contributions/efforts of the following three businesses/organizations are noteworthy:

  • Mountain Creek, which has stepped up and offered the services of its accounting department and other professionals, free of charge, to local small businesses that need help applying for government loans and other assistance.
  • The Tracks Deli which, during this period when we are hunkered down in our homes, as part of our collective effort to reduce/stop the spread of COVID-19, has offered free lunches to Vernon students, seniors and others in need—no questions asked—and have served as the hub for the preparation/distribution of food donated for those Vernon residents in need.
  • The civic group Vernon Cares, which formed to organize volunteers throughout our town to help those high risk neighbors get whatever it is they need, including the delivering of the food donated and prepared by the Tracks Deli.

My wife’s comments also reminded me of how honored I am to work along side a group of outstanding municipal employees, all of whom are also putting themselves at risk in order to serve the Vernon public. I hope that they know how much I appreciate and respect them.

I am so proud of this town! One unanticipated result of this coronavirus crisis is that I have come to believe that part of my purpose on earth is to serve our town, “At a time such as this.”

In addition to the insidious rate and speed at which COVID-19 spreads, another of its weapons is that the many things that we don’t know about it enables it to attack us mentally and emotionally. These unknowns cause many of us to focus on the negative aspects of our lives, and that gets us down.

In times such as these, we need to remember that our attitude in life is often influenced by that aspect of our life that we emphasize—the good experiences or the bad ones. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.

Let’s focus on those aspects of our lives that demonstrate that VERNON CARES, and that makes us collective VERNON STRONG.


Howard L. Burrell, Mayor