Township Council Joint Meeting with Vernon Municipal Utilities Authority

The Joint Meeting of the Township Council and the Municipal Utility Authority of the Township of Vernon was convened at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, 2017 in the Vernon Municipal Center, 21 Church Street, Vernon, New Jersey with Council President Jean Murphy and Chairman Thomas Buchney presiding.

Statement of Compliance

Adequate notice of this meeting has been provided to the public and the press on April 10, 2017, 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. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss completing the Sewers in the Town Center, address potential expansion of the Vernon Sewer Service Area, address the disposition of Pump Station 2, Pump Station 3, as well as the Lift Stations. Official Action may be taken.

Roll Call of Township Council

Present were Council Members Dan Kadish, Sandra Ooms, Dick Wetzel and Council President Jean Murphy. Also present were Mayor Harry Shortway, Business Administrator Charles Voelker and Attorney Joshua Zielinski.

Roll Call of Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority

Present were Commissioner Gallo, Commissioner Perry, Alternate Commissioner Kearney, Commissioner Seger, Commissioner Snook, Alternate Commissioner Wheaton, Chairmen Buchney, Director John Scerbo and Attorney Richard Wenner.

Salute to the Flag

Council President Murphy led the assemblage to the flag.

Public Comments

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to open the meeting to public comments.
Motion: Dan Kadish
Second: Sandra Ooms
All members of the Council and MUA were in favor.

John Stevens, Glenwood, a retired project manager, urged the Council and MUA to form a plan with all of the stakeholders which must include studies, assemblage of documents, engineering and a schedule to reach the milestone. He added Vernon needs a preplanning stage with a conceptual layout, a design phase, consultants, and cost analysis broken out into Phases of completing the Town Center, then work on expansion and decide what is end target. Mr. Stevens felt the Town and MUA have to pull all of the pieces and ideas together and develop a plan to be more cost efficient.

Mark Bower, Great Gorge Village, explained there are approximately 1360 condo units in Great Gorge with most owned by individuals struggling to pay monthly bills and urges Town to do something to alleviate this financial burden. He adds if owners fail to pay taxes, then foreclosures may increase and property values will decrease which may ultimately be filled with lower income people. Mr. Bower respectfully appeals to the Council and MUA to protect the Great Gorge Village and Minerals owners and suggests to fairly divide the cost of the system among entire town and not just the users.

Mike Wilcox, Great Gorge Village, explained about the decrease in property values, foreclosures have made buying in Vernon Township undesirable and urges Council & MUA to turn it around into tax paying. He added as Vernon moves forward, we need to sell the idea of the sewer system expansion to the entire community because ultimately the whole community benefits from new commercial development.

Rick Bagni, Great Gorge Village, feels with the rate increases noted on the MUA newsletter, the potential negative effects will hurt the Township and wants the Council & MUA to look for more options. Mr. Bagni feels rate payers understand the situation but he wants the town to move forward and he indicated he does not think the answer is to wait for sewer expansion. He added that United Water previously billed by usage which for him was $40 per quarter and now it is substantially higher at $50 per month and urged Township to investigate all options to prevent a disaster.

Howard Greenblatt, stated the MUA rates are too high and is upset about hearing from friend about recent letter sent out by MUA that was unsigned and threatened rate payers of foreclosure for non-payment. Mr. Greenblatt met with a Congressman’s representative who listened about the MUA and was hoping he was going to attend the meeting. Mr. Greenblatt doesn’t understand why the entire town shouldn’t pay for sewers and explained he pays for school taxes and is not allowed to use the tennis courts. Mr. Greenblatt stated that many people are struggling and feels something must be done.

Don Penal, feels the prior administration made a mistake by taking over United Water and now Great Gorge and Mountain Creek are the only users as there are no ideal residential areas. He hopes the Township will come up with answers to prevent residents being driven away.

Gary Martinsen, explained that it is very important to know all the costs before going forward as the actual costs to hook up are not $10,000 but more realistically $40,000 - $80,000. He urged the Council to sell the system back to United Water as the expansion will cost more in engineering, construction and flow and feels expansion is not the answer.

Marika, questioned if any big developers are planning to come to Vernon to which Mayor Shortway said not that he is aware of.

Doreen Edwards, Highland Lakes since 1985, explained when she first moved to Vernon she didn’t know what to expect as a new homeowner but then came lake fees and dues which every year are increased and understands times are hard for everyone. She understands the concerns of the condo owners and urged the public to come out to meetings so their input is heard.

Glen Pelosia, Great Gorge Village, explained the problem started when Intrawest said they would invest millions in Vernon and Vernon had grandiose ideas of creating a Town Center and tax dollars would flow in with new business, then the economy crashed. He added Vernon is at a crossroads and it is a town wide problem and needs a town wide solution involving all residents, not just the rate payers. Mr. Pelosia recommended charging a Town Development Tax to raise funds needed for the sewer costs which will be equitable for all as all will benefit. Mr. Pelosia stated the three scenarios that Remington & Vernick study were horrible and basically stated that Great Gorge residents, 16% of Vernon’s population, are bearing the brunt of the responsibility. He added, during the next election, these residents will vote for the person that will do the right thing and stressed the Township should have more public meetings and get the community involved to solve this problem.

Mike Furrey, thanked the Mayor, Council and MUA for having this meeting and states he understands the many challenges with the sewer system. Mr. Furrey stated he recently provided testimony to the State senate who responded very concerned with our issues and provided potential grant opportunities and resources of which is the $100,000 grant for the Asset Management Plan the MUA just applied for. He adds we must go forward because the price of the MUA failing will be substantial to all taxpayers.

Gary Govier, Glenwood and Great Gorge Village, explained he has had problems dealing with the MUA calculating his rate of a 1 bedroom with loft versus a 2 bedroom and is tired of the games. Mr. Govier asked how much will it cost to repair pump station? Mayor Shortway states it is between $1.2 and $1.5 million to repair pump station #2 which is solely the responsibility of Mountain Creek based on the 2012 Agreement.

Seeing no more members of the public wishing to come forward, Council President Murphy asked for a motion to close the public comments.
Motion: Dan Kadish
Second: Dick Wetzel
All members of the Council and MUA were in favor.

Council President Murphy asked MUA Chairman Buchney to introduce the new MUA Commissioners and their credentials

Commissioner Kristin Wheaton, Glenwood resident for 25 years, is a professional in the water industry and has been consulting since 1987. Commissioner Ed Seger, 25-year resident, is a professional environmental engineer for 37 years. Commissioner Paul Kearney, Glenwood resident for 10 years, has worked for 33 years in the biggest NJ water and treatment supply commission and is currently Director of Operations. Commissioner John Perry stated he is the Director of Public Works for Water and Sewer in Montville and explained he takes the appointment very seriously to help the people of Vernon. Commissioner Ed Snook, a resident of Vernon for 64 years and retired from the Vernon Township Department of Public Works after 36 years stated he oversaw installation of the sewer system.

Items for Discussion

Town Center Sewer Completion

Mr. Buchney explained one of the ways the MUA has been looking at dealing with the increase of rates is to increase and gather new rate payers into areas already in the designated sewer service area. Council President Murphy added Vernon needs to find a way to move ahead for more flow at the least amount of money. Vernon has discussed pursuing building a waste station were all residents waste can be brought to increase flow without having to expand. Ms. Murphy stated Mayor Shortway and herself went to meeting in Allamuchy where Congressman Gottheimer explained potential grants from the USDA. Ms. Scerbo explained the USDA grants would require an income analysis of Vernon’s population to qualify.

Potential Expansion of the Vernon Sewer Service Area

Mr. Buchney commented with the approved Resolution approving looking at possible areas of expansion, the MUA and Township will need to delineate which areas to include then we can move forward to the regulatory authorities for inclusion by the County and State. Mr. Scerbo added the MUA Engineer will create the project plan as the preliminary step to go to the County and DEP for purpose of identifying what areas can be looked at for expansion and will continue to report updates to the Council. He added there are available funds through the NJ Trust Fund at low interest rates or forgiveness. Council President Murphy questioned how long the total process may take and Mr. Scerbo explained one month to make the plan, then it depends how long the County, 201 Policy Action Committee and DEP will need to review and approve. Ms. Ceren Aralp, MUA Engineer stated it could take 9 months to a year to get final approval for delineation.

Disposition of Pump Station 2, Pump Station 3, and Lift Stations

Mr. Buchney explained that pump station #2 replacement project is ongoing and the Mayor, Engineer and Mountain Creek are involved. He stated that Pump Station#3 also in need of repairs in the near future. The Lift Stations are currently involved in litigation so no discussion can occur at this time.

Council President Murphy stated that Mountain Creek had sent a letter to the MUA of what they are planning to add and the capacity they will need for future development plans. Mr. Scerbo explains Mountain Creek has not decided on a location for the replacement pump station but gave an example of a station with no structure which was unacceptable as there is no protection for field operators. Mr. Scerbo will set up a meeting with Mountain Creek to go over their plans and will keep Council updated. He suggested that the Township replace the pump station and place an assessment or lien on Mountain Creek property. Council President Murphy opined that there must be a date set when Mountain Creek must submit their plans with the location. Council Member Ooms asked how long it would take to replace pump station #2 and if there are any infrastructure grants or loans available. Mr. Scerbo said it would take 18 -24 months for the planning, design, permitting, and building phases and any applications can be done simultaneously. Council President Murphy questioned if the Township were to build the pump station without Mountain Creek, would the Township be protected if they file bankruptcy. Attorney Wenner stated he would prefer not to discuss strategy or actions of the Town Council with Mountain Creek in case of potential litigation and assures Council his position is to protect the Town and MUA.

Mayor Shortway expressed he is looking forward to working with the MUA and its new commissioners to move forward. He refered to a 2008 report which stated the pump house #2 was failing, then a Sept. 8, 2011 report that the pump house #2 and the lift stations were failing. Then Council signed an amended agreement with Mountain Creek in 2012 that they would be responsible for the replacement of pump station #2. He added after being elected, he met with Mountain Creek and refused to extend the required payment of deficit and enforced their responsibility to replace pump station #2 to prevent an environmental catastrophe. Mayor Shortway expresses his wish to help the users but now the debt is unsustainable based upon the financial study performed. He added when the system was built, water was not available; we need water in the Town Center in order to create flow. Vernon recently accepted an $80,000 grant from the Highlands Council to study Water Use throughout the Township. Expansion will not happen this year as DEP permits are needed, approval of franchise expansion, a hydraulic model created and then negotiations. Mayor Shortway explains if we add water, we then can apply for Redevelopment Area and offer PILOTs to new businesses for the expansion of Town Center. He added that Mr. Furrey has been testifying at the state making them aware of the infrastructure problems Vernon is facing and what we need to move forward.

Council and MUA Commissioners’ Comments

Council Member Wetzel has been living in Vernon for 40 years and explained that we are all residents and responsible for the expenses of our Township.

Council Member Kadish left the meeting at 8:25 p.m.

Council Member Ooms had no comment.

Mr. Kearney explained the priorities of the existing system is to stay operational and with the Council approval now the MUA will be allowed to look at expansion to help the situation.

Council Member Kadish returned at 8:33 p.m.

Mr. John Perry stated, as a new member of the MUA, joined and vowed to take seriously his volunteer position to help to benefit the entire town as we are all related. He added we need expansion and we need to research to expand in the most responsible way.

Mr. Buchney expresses that Vernon has a unique opportunity and pledges to show good faith to work together with this and future Councils and will accept the fulfilling requirement of expansion you allowed.

Council Member Kadish had no comment

Council President Murphy asked for a motion to open the meeting to public comments.
Motion: Sandra Ooms
Second: Dan Kadish
All members of the Council and MUA were in favor.

Angela Erickson, Great Gorge Village, refers to what Mayor Shortway stated that repairs were needed in 2008, 2010 & 2012 and asks why only now the Council and MUA is talking about these issues. She added she is surprised that the MUA is at beginning levels in dealing with grants or opportunities and wonders how many users it will take to stabilize rates. She asks if we even know how many parcels in the RT 94 corridor there could possibly be and will that make it work. Ms. Erickson stated she is for the community and new businesses but what about in interim and caring about the rate payers.

Council Member Kadish explained per the recent financial report, any plans were stopped because they were not affordable and explains this issue is not new.

Susan Weisberg, opined that she loves Vernon but will be unable to stay if the rates are increased to the projected amount of $250/month. She added the fee is not based on usage so the MUA is not a utility and questions how a lien can be put on a property legally.

Vinny Speziale, resident for 28 years and Vernon DPW employee who also maintains the MUA system questions why can’t all residents of Vernon by assessing a tax to cover expenses of sewer. Mr. Zielinski said he is unable to answer about assessment.

Roseanne Brennan, owner of Cider Mill property opined that front door to MUA is very important to new businesses and expressed displeasure and confusion about her tenant’s applications between Mr. Scerbo and the Health Department. She added the building department employees were very helpful in handling the needed permits and inspections. Mr. Scerbo rebutted by saying that is not at all what took place. Mr. Buchney added it has been discussed with all involved and he will respond in writing for the record and public service will be improved for better relationships in the future.

Jessi Paladini, questioned how many more users are needed to be sustainable to which Council Member Ooms explained information can be found in the report that Remington & Vernick created. Ms. Paladini asked if the report scenarios included Mountain Creek’s capacity and Mayor Shortway said no it did not.

Nancy Rush, Cedar Ridge, stated there were two maps presented at the Council Meeting and asked which one is goal for expansion. Mr. Scerbo answered one map showed the current sewer service area as approved and the other is a projection for sewer service areas in the future. Ms. Rush said that the Council approved the expansion with no map and feels more people will be forced out of their homes if they are forced to hook up.

Gary Martinsen, questioned how the RT 94 corridor is identified. Mr. Buchney explained the MUA will look for areas that could be possible and present them to the county for approval. Mr. Martinsen states the cost of connecting to the sewer system is very high and the MUA and Council should think before they put one person out of their home.

Howard Greenblatt, questioned why fees for the condos is all the same and not based per usage as he is only one person. Mr. Buchney explained the system was set up using edu based billing per number of bedrooms. Mr. Greenblatt stated he pays school taxes and asks if sewer costs can be taxed to all residents as well.

Christine Robertson, asked if the financial report is available to public and was told it is on the website. Mr. Seger warned the public to be careful about looking at assumptions in the reports and projections. Ms. Robertson asked if the new owner of Mountain Creek was aware of the 2012 agreement which held them responsible to replace the pump station#2 which Mayor Shortway explained they were aware.

John Murphy, asks now that the resolution for the expansion has passed, what is the plan and what happens to residential areas that have wells.

Council President Murphy stated at the meeting of March 27, 2017, the Council decided to set up a joint meeting with Council and MUA and their professionals which was finalized on April 4 for the meeting date of April 20, 2017. Then two days later at the April 6 Council meeting, a resolution for the proposed expansion was brought to vote and was approved with no map attached but did note that any future bond for sewer improvements must come before Council for their approval.

Marika, asks if a lien can be put on property because of unpaid sewer bill. Mr. Scerbo explained if any 2016 sewer bill goes unpaid, at the end of the year the tax collector can put a lien on that property. Mr. Wenner further explains if a payment is due and owing the collector seeking enforcement may apply lien after certain amount of time.

Linda Monaker, questioned why it took so long for the Council to make a decision on the sewer service area expansion. Council President Murphy answered there were conflicting maps and missing pieces and confusion on what was being voted on. Ms. Monaker opined that the Council and MUA are going over the same things again and again with no solutions.

Mayor Shortway added that in 2012, Mountain Creek said they would build 1500 condos and a water park with 664 edus, when in actuality, they only built improvements for 7.5 edus. The past Mayor and Council waived connection fees at that time but Mayor Shortway refused to give any leeway on payments at the present time.

Craig Thompson, Pleasant Valley Lake and works for Great Gorge Association, encouraged cooperation between MUA, Town and association and adds it is a shame the Town felt need to file lawsuit about ownership of the lift stations which may have been worked out without involving attorney fees. Mr. Thompson urges the town to sit down and talk with minimal legal involvement and work together for solutions and for the residents.

Seeing no more members of the public wishing to come forward, Council President Murphy asked for a motion to close the public comments.
Motion: Dan Kadish
Second: Dick Wetzel
All members of the Council and MUA were in favor.


There being no further items of business to be conducted on the agenda, a motion for Adjournment was made by Council Member Kadish, seconded by Council Member Wetzel with all members voting in favor.

The Joint Meeting of the Township Council and Vernon MUA of the Township of Vernon was adjourned at 9:20 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Lauren Kirkman, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk

Minutes approved: May 22, 2017