21 Church Street, Vernon, NJ 07462
REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
MUNICIPAL UTILITY AUTHORITY
These minutes are a synopsis of the meeting that took place on 5/19/2022. Copies of the recording are available at the office of the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority (the “MUA”).
This regular meeting of the VTMUA commenced at 7:05 pm.
Pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act, adequate notice of this regular meeting was provided to the public and the press on December 27, 2021 by delivering to the press such notice and posting same at the municipal building and filed with the office of the MUA as well as posted on the website.
Mr. Bower was sworn in by Mr. Wenner.
The following members were present:
The following member was absent:
The following professionals were present: Donelle Bright, Administrator, CFO; Rich Wenner, MUA Attorney; Howard Lazier, Licensed Operator; Steve Benosky, Engineer.
Mr. Pitsker motioned to open the meeting for agenda items only, seconded by Mr. Bower and carried by unanimous votes. Ms. Bright stated no one from the public wished to speak.
Mr. McDermott made the motion to close the meeting for agenda items only, which was seconded by Mr. Pitsker and carried by unanimous votes.
Mr. Bower questioned the Otterbox and cell phone on the bills list. Ms. Bright responded that the employees have cell phones, specifically to use for the Sensaphone systems, which are the alarms for the pump and lift stations. Ms. Bright added the last time a phone was purchased five years ago, so an upgrade was needed with the case to protect it.
Mr. Pitsker asked what the current hourly rate for DPW work is. Ms. Bright answered the rate depends on the individual working with the lowest salary line being used, when possible.
Mr. McDermott made the motion to approve resolution #22-28, Approval of the Bills, which was seconded by Ms. Wheaton and carried upon the affirmative votes of Mr. Kearney, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton, and Mr. DeYoung.
Ms. Wheaton motioned for the minutes to be tabled, as she would like to write down corrections, which was seconded by Mr. Kearney and caried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Kearney, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton and Mr. DeYoung.
Mr. Pitsker made the motion to approve the executive minutes from 3/17/22, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Pitsker, Ms. Wheaton, and Mr. McDermott.
Mr. Bower inquired how the EDU projection was obtained. Mr. Benosky explained they have a space which is currently outfitted as 3 tennis courts, which occasionally other events are held in. For the current EDU calculation, it is not treated separately. However, now they are proposing a project to permanently convert the space to a conference center with a permanent kitchen, restrooms, and bar; therefore, the space should be considered separately from the hotel counts. Mr. Bower asked if this is an engineering calculation based on assumptions of sewer usage. Mr. Benosky answered in the VTMUA regulations there are flow projections for all different uses, which are based on guidelines set forth by the NJDEP.
Mr. Pitsker motioned to approve resolution #22-27, Review of EDU Calculation for Property Located at 2 Chamonix Dr., which was seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton, Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Kearney.
Ms. Bright explained the resolution is done annually and should have been completed in the beginning of the year. Mr. Pitsker questioned the cost structure of the shared service. Ms. Bright responded it is an hourly rate based on who is available. Mr. Pitsker inquired what the rate was as well as fringe benefits. Ms. Bright answered the only fringe benefits are Social Security and Medicare, with the hourly rate being around $19 per hour.
Mr. Pitsker made the motion to approve resolution #22-29, Authorizing the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority to execute a Shared Service Agreement Between the Township of Vernon and the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority for the Provision of DPW Services, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton, Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Kearney.
Mr. Kearney reviewed the current subcommittee members and the purpose of each committee. Discussion was held the current need for each committee.
Mr. Pitsker added an additional aspect to consider, in regards to the sewer service area committee, would be how to obtain more customers to reduce rates. Mr. Pitsker added although this is a difficult and expensive task, it is one that must be explored. Mr. Kearney added in the five years he has been on the board, there has not been a lot of movement, due to regulations and approvals taking time, but recently there has been some headway. Mr. Pitsker added there has been some estimates completed for areas which may be able to connect. Ms. Bright stated there are estimates and funding has been applied for the area down Church Street and areas of Rt 94. Ms. Bright stated that if there is federal funding available, in which we do not take out debt, it reduces the connection fee. Discussion was held on the cost to hook up when the sewer system is expanded and to make those decisions well beforehand. Additionally, discussion on how to mandate hook up was held.
Finance: Ms. Bright, Mr. Pitsker, and Mr. DeYoung
Pump Station 2/ Transfer Station: Mr. Kearney and Mr. McDermott
Sewer Service Area: Mr. Kearney and Mr. DeYoung
Solid Waste/Septage Collection: Ms. Wheaton
Bylaw/Personnel: Mr. Pitsker and Mr. McDermott
Each subcommittee will submit a quarterly report.
Ms. Bright stated at the last meeting there were individuals who expressed concerns about the short-term rentals, which are income properties, in the condos. The concerns are that the same unit, which is purely residential, is not the same as a short-term rental which can have more turnover and occupancy equating to more usage. Mr. Kearney inquired if it is legal to charge short term rental properties a higher EDU. Mr. Wenner sated we are governed by EDU base billing, which are based on DEP standards, and there are three known types of classes. Mr. Wenner stated he can work with Mr. Benosky to see if they can add a new class, but it will be a complex task. Mr. Wenner stated what may work would be to say all short-term rentals to be one EDU, but as of right now there is not a class associated with short-term rentals, and the DEP regulations will need to be reviewed. Mr. Pitsker stated he had a concern in charging an additional fee as the town is charging for short term rentals, and they already pay an additional tax, and this may be considered a double dip. Ms. Bright clarified the town charges hotel occupancy tax on short-term rentals and are treated the same way as a hotel. Mr. DeYoung stated if the property is purchased as an investment, you do assume the fees that are associated with it, however; if the units have the same configuration the rate should be the same regardless of the use. Mr. Bower inquired what the formula is used for hotels. Mr. Bower added if the short-term rental is considered a hotel, it should be calculated as one and not a residential property. Ms. Wheaton stated a hotel is the same charge as a one-bedroom residential unit. Ms. Wheaton added the hotel calculations may have to be looked at.
Mr. Pitsker inquired what the township policy is on discounts. Ms. Bright responded it is a state policy. Mr. DeYoung stated at the state level the discount is termed the senior freeze, which is income based. Ms. Bright added the information would have to be collected from the tax collector, as the MUA does not collect financial information. Ms. Bright added although some owners are seniors, they do not reside in the unit, but own them as income properties. All members were in agreement the unit must be a primary residence in order to be eligible for a discount. Ms. Wheaton questioned how these primary residences would be regulated. Mr. Bower questioned why a discount would be given when the stance of the MUA is to treat all users equally. Ms. Bright stated there are authorities which have discounts for qualifying classes. Mr. Wenner added the MUA is constrained by law for exemptions which can be given and is set forth in the statutes of the State of New Jersey, which does include over 65 and blind/disabled veterans. Mr. Wenner will forward the statue to all members.
Ms. Bright stated there was a meeting with the DEP and IBank to review the hold up on pump station 2. The DEP did give updates and a meeting will be held every two weeks moving forward to ensure completion of the project. Mr. Pitsker added this whole project has been held up five months and seems unlikely that it will be completed by April 2023.
Ms. Bright updated on the sewer service area stating Dewberry sent the shapefiles to the DEP for review and final consideration. The DEP did reach out to VTMUA for updates and a meeting will soon be scheduled.
Ms. Bright updated the progress of the transfer station, stating the application for obtaining federal funds had been submitted. Mr. Pitsker asked if any planning can be done ahead of time, while the application is in review. Ms. Bright stated that she spoke with Dave Bower, from Windriver, and he gave some specifics but Dewberry needs to firm up what is needed for permitting and plans. Mr. Benosky added the transfer station is evolving from the initial intention and the information needs to be reviewed. Additionally, the MUA needs to be aware of the long-term obligations and treatment parameters. Mr. Kearney inquired about the obligations outside of grease treatment. Mr. Benosky responded grease is the primary focus and the additioanl information received will be closely reviewed. Ms. Wheaton asked how the transfer station became a project after last year it was determined it was not feasible due to the many outside factors. Mr. McDermott agreed with Ms. Wheaton in regards to the transfer station being tabled. Mr. Kearney stated he sees the transfer station being exploratory based on potential funds from IBank, to determine if it worth pursuing. Mr. DeYoung added that at the February Town Council meeting, the Council asked the MUA to look into and explore the option of a transfer station. Mr. Kearney added this is something to look into and if it is not feasible the Council will be notified. Ms. Wheaton asked if there was a presentation done by Mr. Benosky last year on this project. Ms. Bright responded that Mr. Benosky did reach out to the DEP and concerns were waste from outside of the Upper Wallkill Region would be collected and SCMUA may not allow that; however, in discussion with SCMUA, they have no way of knowing where the waste comes from. Ms. Bright added an additional concern was in the regulations it is for sewage and not for septage; however, once treated it becomes sewage wastewater. Ms. Bright stated financially, and in conversations with the board, it seems like a project worth exploring. Ms. Wheaton requested a memo be put together from Ms. Bright and Dewberry to understand what is expected for the transfer station. Mr. Pitsker requested a project outline for the transfer station in order for the board to provide input.
Ms. Bright updated on the rehab of pump station 3 we are awaiting the state certification from the vendor; once it is received, we will be able to begin work on the building. Regarding the installation of the generators, Elizabethtown gas currently has the plans and their engineers are reviewing the plans to place the meters. Mr. Pitsker inquired on the drainage ditches and was responded that the easement was just cleared.
Mr. Lazier reported on pump station one stating the easement is cleared from the police station to the P.A.L, the ditch line was also cleared. Mr. Lazier added even with the recent heavy rain, no further damage has occurred.
Mr. Lazier stated regarding pump station 3, after speaking with Ms. McCabe, the contractor was rejected and needs to reapply for the required certification.
Mr. Lazier stated last week all of Vernon power went out; however, the stations functioned properly. There was one call out in the condos and the line was clogged by a toy, which was promptly rectified.
Mr. Pitsker inquired if the recommendations for the lift stations, made by the vendor that visited them, should be added to the capital list. Ms. Bright responded they can be added for further evaluation.
Mr. Lazier added that the manholes are being visited to check the current operations. Mr. Lazier added that maps are being used to ensure all are visited and checked. Mr. Pitsker asked Mr. Benosky if there was a process for checking manholes and was responded there is a checklist for the process.
Mr. Benosky had nothing further to add.
Mr. McDermott motioned to open to the public for items not on the agenda, seconded by Mr. DeYoung and carried by affirmative votes. Ms. Bright stated a hand was raised virtually.
Jessica Paladini commented Mr. Bower is a breath of fresh air and comes up with good comments. Ms. Paladini stated she has been stating for a decade to charge people only by what they use and the answer is always the MUA cannot be meter based because of how expensive it would be. Ms. Paladini stated no one has investigated the costs or put out and RFP, so the cost is unknown. Ms. Paladini added the cost can be passed on to the users and the user can then have fair and equitable user fees. Ms. Paladini stated to use the United Water meters, as they have already offered that. Ms. Paladni commented the senior and veteran discount is a slippery slope and would like to know what other authorities do this so it can be looked into. Ms. Paladini added why, as a senior, would she not get a discount on her utility bills and stated the town does not give discounts and she does not know of anyone that does. Ms. Paladini further stated it is possible that a totally disabled veteran may get a one-time discount, on a case-by-case basis, and there are county programs that give money for utilities. Ms. Paladini commented on charging business’s more and stated that everyone does this including: telephone companies, other utilities, and taxes; and is agreement with Mr. Bower. Ms. Paladini stated its time to start charging people for what they use and all the problems will go away.
Mr. Kearny made the motion to close the meeting for items not on the agenda, seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by unanimous votes.
Ms. Wheaton had no comments.
Mr. McDermott commented he is looking forward to reviewing the statues on the discounts and hopefully something can be done.
Mr. DeYoung had no comments.
Mr. Bower commented he looked forward to seeing the statue and he would like to get a deeper legalistic handle on the apparent requirement of treating the users the same. Mr. Bower added he had recently commented at a public meeting that treating all users the same is based on bad assumptions; so, having a serous handle on how this applies will be enormously helpful and maybe past mistakes will be rectified. Mr. Bower added treating everyone the same in the past has been poorly executed.
Mr. Pitsker welcomed Mr. Bower and appreciated the input and different ideas of looking at things. Mr. Bower appreciated it and stated he hopes to be constructive. Mr. Pitsker asked about walking the line walk. Ms. Bright stated Ms. McCabe will reach out to the railroad company. Mr. Pitsker reviewed what the line walk consists of to Mr. Bower; and additionally, invited members to make arrangements to observe operations if they would like. Mr. Kearney added to be in touch with Ms. Bright and something can be arranged for visitation.
Mr. Kearney welcomed Mr. Bower. Mr. Kearney commented in regards to metering and he agrees that they would be the fairest way to do things. Mr. Kearney stated there has been a small amount of exploration on the matter and if we ever did go down the road the residents would have to pay for the meters. Mr. Kearney added meters will be all or nothing as it is expensive and the MUA does not have liquid funds to install them. Mr. Kearney added this will be explored further and we will see what the future brings as everything that has been discussed is all exploratory amongst ourselves and not even close to policy.
Mr. Pitsker made the motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:44 pm seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by unanimous votes.
Jaclyn McCabe, Recording Secretary
Minutes approved 6.16.22