21 Church Street, Vernon, NJ 07462
REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
MUNICIPAL UTILITY AUTHORITY
April 21, 2022 AT 7:00 P.M.
These minutes are a synopsis of the meeting that took place on 4/21/2022. Copies of the recording are available at the office of the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority (the “MUA”).
The regular meeting of the MUA was convened at 7:04 p.m.
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.
The following members were present:
The following member was absent:
The following professionals were present:
Donelle Bright, Administrator/CFO; Rich Wenner, MUA Attorney; Steve Benosky, Engineer; Jaclyn McCabe, Recording Secretary.
Mr. McDermott motioned to open to the public for an agenda item only, which was seconded by Mr. Pitsker, and carried by unanimous votes. Ms. McCabe informed no hands were raised virtually or in person.
Mr. McDermott made the motion to close to the public for agenda items only, which was seconded by Mr. Snook and carried by unanimous votes.
Mr. Pitsker made the motion to approve resolution #22-23, approval of the bills, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott and declared carried by the unanimous votes of Mr. Kearney, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton, and Mr. Snook.
Mr. Pitsker made the motion to approve the 3/17/22 minutes, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton and Mr. Snook. Mr. Kearney abstained from voting.
Mr. McDermott made the motion to approve the 3/25/22 minutes, which was seconded by Ms. Wheaton and carried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Kearney. Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, and Ms. Wheaton. Mr. Snook abstained from voting.
Ms. Wheaton made the motion to approve the 3/25/22 executive meeting minutes, which was seconded by Mr. Pitsker and carried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Kearney. Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, and Ms. Wheaton. Mr. Snook abstained from voting.
Ms. Bright explained that resolution #22-14 needed amending due to incorrect term length.
Ms. Wheaton made the motion to approve resolution #22-24, Amending Resolution #22-14, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Kearney, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton, and Mr. Snook.
Mr. Pitsker made the motion to approve resolution #22-25, Appointing Fund Commissioner for Statewide Insurance Fund, which was seconded by Ms. Wheaton and carried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Kearney, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton, and Mr. Snook.
Mr. Pitsker made the motion to approve resolution #22-26, Appointing Risk Management Consultant and RMC Agreement, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by the affirmative votes of Mr. Kearney, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton, and Mr. Snook.
Mr. Pitsker made the motion to table resolution #22-27, Review of EDU Allocation for 2 Chamonix Dr, seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by unanimous votes.
Ms. Wheaton motioned to postpone the subcommittee discussion until after agenda number 13, which was carried unanimously.
Ms. Bright reviewed regarding pump station 2 we are still awaiting final approval from NJDEP/NJIB for the engineering design. Ms. Bright updated the sewer service mapping stating a meeting was held with NJDEP and after discussion, the NJDEP will reach out to the threatened/endangered species contact regarding areas being removed from the SSA. The stance of the MUA and Township is that if it was already reviewed and approved but the NJDEP for a town center designation by the State Planning Commission, it should be permitted in the sewer service area. The files will be sent for review for final consideration. Ms. Bright reviewed the status of the transfer station reporting an application was submitted for this specific project with the Community Funding for Fiscal Year 2023. Capital items were updated. Ms. Bright also reviewed a local vender, Dave Heiner and Associates, came out to visit all of our pump and lift stations to give recommendations and quotes in the future. Ms. Bright reviewed that all 700+ customers with billing issues were notified via regular mail regarding the changes to their billing. Ms. Bright clarified that the billing issue originated from a 2012 decision made by the VTMUA to bill based on EDU calculations which are based on a standard number of bedrooms. In order to maintain uniformity and consistency, the VTMUA made the decision to use the Assessors listing for bedroom counts as it is a set standard. Ms. Bright further clarified the bedroom counts, do not affect taxes, however; they do affect the calculation of EDUs for each unit.
No report was given.
Mr. Benosky stated that Ms. Bright reviewed most of the progress made on current projects. Regarding PS2, the SED Participation During Planning and Design for Contracting Agencies is anticipated to be submitted the week of 4/18/22. Mr. Benosky reviewed the revised sewer service area map, which will be submitted to NJDEP for comment the week of 4/18/22.
Ms. Wheaton motioned to open to the public for items not on the agenda, which was seconded by Mr. Snook and carried by unanimous votes. Ms. McCabe informed there were hands raised virtually and in person.
Joseph Bono, 3 Silver Star Ct: Questioned how a loft is a bedroom and wondered who makes the decisions. Mr. Bono stated a loft is not a bedroom and he would need approval to turn it into one.
Mr. Wenner responded that Mr. Bono is correct with his situation, however, the MUA is not flow based and explained the EDU basis. Mr. Wenner added in order to be flow based everyone on the system must be on public water and they are not. Mr. Wenner stated that per the assessor it is considered a two bedroom.
Craig Thompson, Owner of Comet Management: Mr. Thompson stated he was involved in the initial EDU allocations and he fought hard to save money for the people. Mr. Thompson explained that in the beginning the MUA wanted to charge all units a full EDU and there were many inconsistencies with the list. Mr. Thompson stated he has emails containing the inconsistencies and documented proof. Mr. Thompson stated he looked at all the minutes and did not did not see these changes discussed in public and why after 10 years are you putting the rate problem back on us?
Maryann Mitchell, 1 Vail Ct Unit 1: Ms. Mitchell stated she understand she may need to speak with the assessor, however, purchased a 2 bedroom with a loft and as a single person should not be charged the same as 6 people. Ms. Mitchell stated she can not afford more as they pay astronomical fees there. Ms. Mitchell stated she is alone and pay over $300 per quarter and can not believe everyone is ok with this in the town. Ms. Mitchell stated they should have flow meters and this is outrageous as it is not an expensive community and many people are single or retired and do not have the income.
Gregory Fontana, 2 Jackson Hole Unit 3: Mr. Fontana commented that he has one bedroom and 3 ½ rooms and has been frustrated since purchase. He has never owned a home based on bedrooms and not usage and doesn’t get it. Mr. Fontana stated water in equals water out.
Mr. Wenner responded not every user on the system is on public water. Although EDU is not ideal, we are constrained by state statute to charge uniform charges to all users.
Patricia La Sorsa, 1 Baltusrol Ct Unit 6: Ms. La Sorsa described what the township considers a bedroom on the township website. Ms. La Sorsa stated the lofts do not have doors and the are open spaces. Ms. La Sorsa would like to know what the assessor has and if all should go work with the town on this.
Mr. Wenner stated this is not legal advice but if it was him, he would speak to the assessor.
Ms. La Sorsa stated they are all complaining about the EDU rate and can the board help to make it fair.
Noreen Moran, Stonehill Dr.: Ms. Moran questioned why all of a sudden, this extra money is needed as there was just a raise in rates.
Ms. Bright responded, to be clear, the increase in these rates were not anticipated for this year. MS. Bright added in the future she encourages everyone to look at the MUA budget and the majority of it goes to SCMUA to pay for the treatment of sewage.
Ms. Moran continued the money is what Mt. Creek owes, and that since everyone uses the sewers all the taxpayers should pay. Ms. Moran said she lives in a 1 bedroom with a loft and she pays the same as the Air BNB down the road which has an average of 10-17 a night, and there are a number of them in the development. Ms. Moran suggested they should be paying more.
Mr. Wenner responded that is something to look into and it will be a new class. Mr. Kearney agreed.
Lenny Coloccia: Mr. Coloccia inquired if anyone on the board lived in the sewer district, and the response was no. Mr. Coloccia stated he has been through this before and the direction is not right in spite of what the attorney says. Mr. Coloccia stated the township building department would never approve a loft or rec as a bedroom, he knows this because he asked them. Mr. Coloccia inquired if people on Maple Grange Rd or Glenwood Rd pay as well as how much Great Gorge Village contributes to the MUA. Ms. Bright responded she would have to pull the numbers. Mr. Coloccia asked if any of the commercial properties were reviewed. Ms. Bright answered, as Mr. Wenner has explained, there are different ways to calculate commercial properties and we use the tax assessors list to calculate residential properties. Mr. Coloccia stated that Comet does not consider it a bedroom and asked if there are any limits to where this will stop as this is totally illegal. Mr. Kearney responded that the MUA is not designating bedrooms we just use the list and we can not deviate. Mr. Wenner added this is based on uniformity and in our rules and regulations 4.4 it discusses using the assessor’s property cards, as we do not have the financial ability to go into every residence we rely on that list. Mr. Wenner added if you review the minutes from 2012 you will see, on the record, it should have been done and it was not.
Heather Ronlein, Great Gorge Village: Stated EDU vs flow rate is out of scope and is a clear deficiency and blindly billing. If going by bedrooms then it has to go by building code. Ms. Ronlein inquired what the specific justification for billing is.
Mr. Wenner questioned if Ms. Ronlein was referring to the loft. Mr. Wenner stated it is what the dwelling is considered is what is charges and the MUA relies on those records. Mr. Wenner added if felt that the records are inappropriate, to take it up with the assessor’s office.
Lenora Mongulla, 2 Squaw Ct Unit 3: This August it will be 40 years of living here and I found out from a friend I was over paying. I got it adjusted but no one told me what to expect or how I would be credited.
Ms. Bright responded we can get you an updated bill with the breakdown.
Mark Bower, Wimbledon Dr, Great Gorge Village: Mr. bower stated he is familiar with finances and the problem comes from basics and the EDU system that you say is treating everyone alike. Mr. Bower lives alone in a 3 bedroom and the water usage is $20 a month and for the sewer pays more then 5x that to flow out. Mr. Bower added to say the MUA is treating people alike is unfair. The MUA is the only utility in the county where the users are stuck with the bill. Mr. Bower added his neighbor doesn’t have a car but still ahs to pay taxes for the roads. Mr. Bower suggested that he knows of 1,000 homes with a septic and wells are not interested in contributing, they’ll have to sell or the septic will fail and they should be forced to go onto sewer.
Christina Kane, 1 Alta Ct Unit 2 : Ms. Kane stated they are new to the village and were given an idea of what they were going to be paying. Ms. Kane stated if the bill was only bumped $20 no one would be here. Ms. Kane stated they have a one bedroom with a loft and no more then 2 residents allowed per the master deed. Ms. Kane understands there has to be a bedroom count, and did speak with tax, who said it is assessed by square foot. Ms. Kane stated she would even take a bill for someone to come in and assess what the unit has. Ms. Kane stated there has to be a better system and its not easy being us in this economy.
Tom Keane 1 Spyglass Unit 4: Mr. Keane inquired what the anticipated rates for 2023 are.
Ms. Bright responded that there isn’t a budget for 2023.
Mr. Keane stated he has heard the rates are increasing and that he is a single father and disabled Veteran on a fixed income who can not afford to stay here.
Mr. Pitsker spoke in regards to cutting costs for the last two years. Mr. Pitsker added the last increase was not something that the board wanted to do but when SCMUA put the pressure on us we had to, even though we pump more air than wastewater. Mr. Pitsker added he feels for everyone and this was not done for the money, it was done for fairness.
Joseph Bono: Inquired what is going to be done about the raising rates. Mr. Bono stated tax should not be guessing. Mr. Bono added if the MUA has to make cuts, like the rest of us, then do it and do whatever it takes to repair this.
Craig Thompson, Comet Property Management: Mr. Thompson added in 2012, the MUA was going to inspect the units and could not, due to not having manpower, so Comet helped make the list. Mr. Thompson stated in 2016 the MUA paid for a study by RBE, that should be read, they predicted this problem would happen in 10 years. Mr. Thompson stated 100% of the board is not on the sewer system and someone needs to volunteer for representation. Mr. Thompson added 75% of the users are the condos and taking the burden, and the debt should be taken and spread across the town. Mr. Thompson requested other sources of revenue be reviewed, such as short-term rentals.
Amanda Skinner, Great Gorge Village, 4 Red Lodge Unit 4: Ms. Skinner stated she has a tenant there in a similar situation as she lives alone, Comet has my unit listed as a 2 bedroom. Ms. Skinner inquired on the possibility of alternate billing as the sewer is five times more then water. Ms. Skinner added she gathered that the assessors list is being used to bill but there are alternate ways and this is not uniform. Ms. Skinner stated water in equals water out and bill based off that for equality.
Jessica Paladini: Ms. Paladini stated she has been listening to this conversation by the owners and it breaks her heart, especially the disabled veteran. Ms. Paladini added the whole problem with the MUA for a decade is the EDU system. Ms. Paladini stated this town and the MAU keeps trying to reinvent the wheel and it is not rocket science. Ms. Paladini stated someone said to tell the truth and she agrees, as charging a loft as a bedroom is outrageous. Ms. Paladini stated she was the recording secretary for 10 years, from the onset, and wrote every set of regular and executive minutes. Ms. Paladini stated she has always said to install meters and it is bogus to state it can not be done for consistency. Ms. Paladini added four years ago an engineer said it would cost $200 per meter, so do it and charge the owner the fee, as she is sure they would be more then satisfied. Ms. Paladini inquired why there is no study, discussion, or analysis on putting meters on all users.
Ed Dillworst, Jackson Hole Unit 3: Mr. Dillworth stated United Water said they would share usage electronically, which would be simple. Mr. Dillworth inquired why the MUA would not do that as the incoming water is already metered. Mr. Dillworth added a loft is not a bedroom and is absurd and illegal.
Peg Distasi: Ms. Distasi was very disturbed by the attitude on the dais. Ms. Distasi added that the rate payors can not afford this and it is the MUA’s responsibility. Ms. Distasi said meters should be obtained from Suez and a study should be done on meter cost. Ms. Distasi stated it is time for the MUA to own up and can not just charge.
Angelica 2 Wack Wack Ct Unit 3: Commented if the money is not in this year’s budget why doesn’t the MUA table this and do the research and put off until next year.
Mr. Pitsker responded time is needed to discuss.
Additional question was asked on how the $72 was determined and are we able to call for a reevaluation?
Ms. Bright responded it is based on the EDU charge and if the unit was not already evaluated you could call the assessors office.
Anita Pivirotto: Ms. Pivirotto stated she has been living here 10-11 years, first rented and then bought, and has been racked by the MUA the whole time. Ms. Pivirotto stated the charge should be by water usage and why is the bill almost the same as a social security payment.
Bonnie Schulz, 2 Pico Ct: Ms. Schulz stated some people are falling asleep on the dais and questioned why the MUA should be continued. Ms. Schulz added there was supposed to be building and construction which never happened.
Mr. McDermott responded in 2016 the system was being sold and no one would touch it because of the debt associated with it.
Ms. Schulz stated that is known and also using the EDU is just to make money.
Mr. Pitsker stated when he came on three years ago, he saw the financial issues. Mr. Pitsker added the town owns the system and the MUA is responsible for the operations. Mr. Pitsker stated he came on to reduce costs, which have been done by doing preventative maintenance; however, there are still financial setbacks such as SCMUA charges.
Mr. Kearney stated these examples are trying to be rectified. Mr. Kearney added that projects are trying to move; however, since we deal with the NJDEP, who work from home, we are on their time.
Mr. Wenner stated the MUA can not pull the plug, only town council can.
Lenny Coloccia: Mr. Coloccia asked after all that was discussed can the tax records still be used or will it be rescinded. Mr. Coloccia asked all members of the Board their opinion and was told it weighs heavily but must be discussed.
Maryann Mitchell, 1 Vail Ct Unit 1: Ms. Mitchell asked if flow meters could be installed on wells to make it fair to all.
Mr. Kearney answered all suggestions will be discussed.
Kevin Francia, 1 Red Lodge Unit 6: Mr. Francia stated he is not a fan of Comet and that renters come and leave garbage, which he cleans up. Mr. Francia stated his brother-in-law is a general contractor and said a loft is not a bedroom. Mr. Francia stated if Vernon does not stop gouging people the good people will leave and riff raff will come in.
Anna, Big Sky Drive: Stated the bill is outrageous and no one else has this high of a price. Additionally, with working 12 hour shifts the sewer is barely used and changes need to be made.
Joe DiSanto, 3 telluride Unit 1: Mr. DiSanto questioned how it will be fair to Great Gorge if no one on the board lives there. Mr. DiSanto stated he doesn’t live there so he will not run. Mr. DiSanto was told there is an open position on the board.
Mr. Pitsker stated he will be the representation and if he is invited will attend their meetings.
Mr. Wenner added people can be represented at any meeting with their attendance. Mr. Wenner stated meetings are the third Thursday of every month with the public welcome to attend. Mr. Wenner added even if someone from Great Gorge is on the board, we are still constrained by rules and regulations.
Ruthann, 1 red Lodge Unit 4: Stated the point is a bedroom has doors and windows and the loft is not fully walled. It was questioned if they are expected to pay the extra $72 now.
Mr. Wenner recommended to pay the bills and if a credit is warranted it will be issued.
Ken Warren: Mr. Warren has owned since 2001 and hasn’t lived there since 2010 because of the bad people and the fees. Mr. Warren added for people like the board to come in and say they have to pay is insulting.
Ann Larsen: Ms. Larsen stated the entire fiasco is organized chaos done with the intention to cause chaos. Ms. Larsen added the mayor confiscated the $1.75 million and dumped it into the MUA, which isn’t viable. Ms. Larsen said the whole thing is wrong and the MUA should be dumped.
Mr. Pitsker motioned to close for public comment which was seconded by Ms. McDermott and carried by unanimous votes.
Mr. Pitsker motioned to move agenda item 9, sub committee discussion, to the next meeting, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott and carried by unanimous votes.
Mr. Snook commented on what the cost would be to install meters. Mr. Kearney responded a meter with software would start around $600 per unit, making the total cost over $800,000. Mr. Pitsker suggested making this a subcommittee to look into this further. Ms. Bright stated there is still a budget and the cost per gallon would be much higher even if it was meter read. Mr. Snook added that if his septic fails and he has a sewer line that he would prefer to hook up to the sewer.
Ms. Wheaton inquired if the assessor has ever changed the number of bedrooms on their listing. Ms. Bright responded the most recent list was compared to the 2009 listing and they were the same. Ms. Wheaton expressed her opinion that the individuals who originally approved the extent of bonding with SCMUA had made bad decisions, and the VTMUA is now in the position of having to deal with this, and it attempting to do so in the most straight-forward way possible. Ms. Wheaton addressed the comment on not being able to afford the bills and inquired if hardships are available. Ms. Bright responded there are hardships for connection fees and maybe this is something for the board to consider. Ms. Wheaton commented that the EDU is a standard measure set by the state and is not misguided, however; agreed that meters should be investigated. Ms. Wheaton stated that the public has to understand that the MUA is a separately entity from the township and the MUA can not summon the Assessor to a meeting. Ms. Wheaton commented she is dismayed by the comment regarding the MUA squeezing money of the condos as this is nothing more then being equitable in allocation.
Mr. McDermott commented he has been on the board since 2018 and meters have been discussed several times and were determined financially unfeasible. Additionally, in previous minutes you will see that this decision was made in 2012, and if the public would like to approach tax, they can do that. Mr. Kearney added we just use the information given to us. Mr. McDermott added when the by-laws were reviewed the hardship by-law should have the parameters codified for a hardship rate.
Mr. Pitsker commented people have to take some responsibility on what their property is assessed at as it would also be his responsibility to do so as a homeowner. Mr. Pitsker stated the MUA uses the legal document to verify the number of bedrooms and we have been working on this since 2012. Mr. Pitsker added the new class of Air BNB would be a good idea to do. Mr. Pitsker stated at this time there is no other solution and with have to move forward.
Mr. Kearney commented that he is glad that people should up to the meeting. Mr. Kearney added he wishes for more interaction between users and the board not just when a negative event happens and more participation would be nice to have. Mr. Kearney sympathizes with the rate payors, as this is not a light issue, and does not disagree, however; we are stuck between laws and parameters. Mr. Kearney stated in a short period of time two major issues have been discovered and corrected and wonders if there are more and inquired if an audit was conducted what else would show up. Mr. Kearney responded to the comment that the board looks disinterested in the public comments stating that cannot be further from the truth. Mr. Kearney stated just because we are not commenting does not mean we are not interested and we are listening and it is weighing heavily.
Mr. Kearney commented there has been a lot of talk regarding Block 141 Lot 12, also known as the Baldwin Property, and it being in the sewer service area. Ms. Bright reached out to NJDEP a received the response that the property is not currently in the approved sewer service area. The response also stated it appears that it was included in the sewer service area prior to the adoption of the current county wide FWSA/SSA mapping on 6/4/2013. Additionally, this property of part of the ESA25 in that area for bobcat and timber rattlesnake.
Mr. Pitsker stated that there is no other map certified by the NJDEP and all other maps were from engineers. Mr. Kearney stated based on this response from the NJDEP he would imagine so.
Mr. McDermott made the motion to adjourn the meeting at 10:01 pm, which was seconded by Mr. Pitsker and carried by unanimous votes.
Jaclyn McCabe, Recording Secretary
Minutes approved 6/16/22
21 Church Street
Vernon, NJ 07462
Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Land Use Board