Minutes: August 17, 2017

Call to Order

The regular meeting of the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority (VTMUA) of the Township of Vernon was convened at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 18, 2017 in the Vernon Municipal Center, 21 Church Street, Vernon, New Jersey.

Statement of Compliance

Adequate notice of this meeting had been provided to the public and the press on February 21, 2017 and was posted on the bulletin board in the municipal building in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6.

Roll Call

Thomas BuchneyP
Gloria GalloA
Paul KearneyP
John PerryP
Edward SegerP
Edward SnookP
Kristen WheatonA

Roll Call of Professionals

Attorney Richard Wenner, Engineer Peter Cotsin substituting for Ceren Aralp, and Executive Director John Scerbo were present.

1. Public Comment

Edward Snook moved to open the meeting to the public.
John Perry seconded the motion.
All were in favor.
The meeting was opened to the public.

Great Gorge Village resident Pat Lasorsa came forward and said she has attended the past two township council meetings and is conflicted between what Mayor Shortway is saying and what the township council is saying. The mayor seems to be giving hope that there is going to be something happening to relieve the sewer ratepayers of possible future expenses that they have, but to her it sounds as though the council is more worried about not investing any more money and saving all of the taxpayers of Vernon some money. She questioned the lawsuit against Great Gorge Village concerning the lift stations, which she said they do not own and never owned. She said the Great Gorge Village management company provided all the paperwork proving that to the township, but the township went ahead and sued them anyway. She asked the VTMUA if any of it had to do with the authority. She also questioned a resolution concerning a letter of credit concerning Mountain Creek and questioned whether any of that money would come to the VTMUA to help with costs for the ratepayers. She said she does not expect anyone to pay for her sewer fees but that all the residents of Vernon should be responsible for paying for all the plans for the sewer utility that did not happen. Everyone in town should be responsible for that portion that did not come to fruition, she said.

VTMUA Chairman Thomas Buchney asked attorney Richard Wenner to provide some background on the lawsuit regarding the lift stations. Mr. Wenner said the lawsuit is the township’s and the township initiated it, not the VTMUA. He said the lawsuit is trying to determine who is the rightful owner of the lift stations in Great Gorge. The lawsuit is not within the jurisdiction of the VTMUA and is ongoing. With regard to the letter of credit, that also goes back to the township. Mr. Wenner said it all depends on what the township decides with the money. Ms. Lasorsa asked if it were better for her to go to the township with these questions. Mr. Wenner said yes, depending on what her questions are. Questions regarding how the sewer system is run should come to the VTMUA.

Sally Rinker of Vernon said she wants to address what she calls common sense and nonsense. She spoke about the interlocal agreement between the VTMUA and the township DPW to operate the sewers. She criticized the mayor for his refusal to agree to a three-year contract when 3 of the 5 township council members voted to give the DPW a three-year contract. The mayor wants to give the DPW a one-year contract. She said there is no good reason for the mayor to stand in the way of good business for Vernon and the competent service the DPW does for the sewer system. She said under the mayor’s prior threat to pull the DPW from working on the sewers, the VTMUA made a shared services agreement with Hardyston Township to operate the sewers, but she said she feels there was an inappropriate interference by the mayor, and the VTMUA’s deal with Hardyston got canceled as a result. Ms. Rinker stated that at the recent township council meeting Mayor Shortway and Councilwoman Jean Murphy put on the record three times that the VTMUA was not paying the DPW stipend for operating the sewers, inferring that working with the VTMUA might be bad business. However, Ms. Rinker stated the township was responsible for allowing that contract to lapse, which is misleading to the public. Ms. Rinker stated that the VTMUA has experienced public service workers in the DPW servicing the sewers with competence, so why would they look elsewhere? She said the DPW is here 24/7. She believes the mayor’s notion for an outside company to work the sewers Monday through Friday during the day with the DPW covering nights and weekends is absurd. She said that highlights a lack of understanding for good management and ownership of responsibility. She said there should never be a shared responsibility of the township’s valuable assets and does not bode well economically or otherwise. She said the only common sense plan is a long-term contract between the township and the VTMUA. The township employees would be far more committed to doing a good job than any outside agency, she said.

Seeing no one else come forward for public comment, Chairman Thomas Buchney called for a motion to close the meeting to the public.

2. Close Meeting for Public Comment

Paul Kearney moved to close the meeting to the public.
Edward Seger seconded the motion.
All were in favor.

3. Consent Agenda

A. Resolution 17-34: Authorizing the Payment of Bills for August 17, 2017

John Perry moved to approve Resolution 17-33 for payment of the bills.
Edward Seger seconded the motion.

Discussion: None

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Paul Kearney, John Perry, Edward Seger, Edward Snook, and Thomas Buchney
Nays: None

B. Approval of July 20, 2017 Minutes

Thomas Buchney moved to approve the July 20, 2017 minutes.
John Perry seconded the motion.

Discussion: None

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Paul Kearney, John Perry, and Thomas Buchney
Nays: None
Abstain: Edward Snook and Edward Seger

4. Correspondence

None

5. Other Resolutions

Resolution 17-35: Renew Membership in the Statewide Insurance Fund

Edward Snook moved to approve Resolution 17-35 to renew the membership.
Edward Seger seconded the motion.

Discussion: None

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Paul Kearney, John Perry, Edward Seger, Edward Snook, and Thomas Buchney
Nays: None

Resolution 17-36: Amend VTMUA Rules and Regulations

Edward Seger moved to approve Resolution 17-36.
John Perry seconded the motion.

Discussion: John Perry clarified whether the resolution was for changes in use and how they should be handled. Executive Director John Scerbo affirmed. Edward Seger questioned whether it was a good idea for the VTMUA to charge for changes in use. Mr. Scerbo said if there is a change in plan involved and the engineer must review it there needs to be a charge to pay the bill. It is similar to the charge for the engineer’s review for the initial connection. The fee is $100 for administrative costs. Mr. Seger said he did not want to discourage anyone from coming forward and felt the fee could be unnecessary. Mr. Scerbo said the change in use and conditions require review by the professionals. A change could be as elaborate as an original connection, he said.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Paul Kearney, John Perry, Edward Snook, and Thomas Buchney
Nays: Edward Seger

6. Attorney’s Report

Attorney Richard Wenner had no report and reserved his comments for executive session. He wants to discuss the pending interlocal agreement between the township and the VTMUA and what the VTMUA intends to do with regard to RFPs, as well as to discuss litigation and contractual matters.

7. Township CFO - 2017 Six Month Budget Report

CFO Elke Yetter announced the VTMUA is close to its budget and is in good shape. Highlights of her report are as follows.

  1. Sewer charges have been billed out for the first half of the year.
  2. The accounts receivable is $122,509. She said about 1/3 is from 2016 and will be sold in the upcoming tax sale.
  3. The interest income and permit fees for connection are higher than budgeted for the year.
  4. The VTMUA received the expected deficit payments for 2017 from Mountain Creek. The resort is paid up to date.
  5. A total of 66.7% of the annual VTMUA budgeted expenses is disbursed or encumbered. This includes charges through the third quarter.
  6. In capital improvements, the VTMUA purchased a spare pump, automatic transfer switch, generator, and Sensaphones.

8. Engineer’s Report

A. Review of New Applications—None

B. Old Business—None

C. Status of Asset Management Plan

Engineer Peter Cotsin, substituting for Ceren Aralp, said they are waiting for more direction from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) on the status of the asset loan management plan funding. Executive Director John Scerbo added that the NJDEP’s review is complete and the next call they are awaiting is the announcement of whether they will receive the funding. It is just a stamp of approval now, he said.

D. Status of Sewer Expansion Study

Peter Cotsin reported Ceren Aralp submitted a request for a meeting with the NJDEP. They are waiting to hear from the NJDEP with a date for the meeting. There is no other news on this matter, Mr. Cotsin reported.

9. Executive Director’s Report

Executive Director John Scerbo reported the roof for pump station #2 has been completed.

He also said the resolution they approved tonight regarding the rules and regulations of the VTMUA will appear as an addendum now, and in February when the authority reorganizes all of the addendums will appear in the updated rules and regulations document for adoption.

10. Commissioner Comments

Paul Kearney wanted to clarify whether the DPW employees who are operating the sewers are getting paid their stipends in the interim in the absence of a contract between the township and the VTMUA. Mr. Scerbo said they cannot pay the DPW employees the stipend without a signed contract. CFO Elke Yetter confirmed Mr. Scerbo’s comments, saying she cannot authorize any payments without a contract signed by both parties. When a contract is signed she said they would be paid retroactively to February 2017. Attorney Richard Wenner said he has sent the final iteration of the contract to the township attorney, but there has been no approval yet. He said they cannot enter into a contract that has no terms, i.e. time period for the contract. Mr. Wenner said they are again approaching the same place they were in last year with putting out RFPs, and they will discuss the matter in executive session.

Edward Seger asked if there were anything they could do to further along the meeting with the NJDEP concerning the sewer expansion study. John Scerbo said everything was in place and they are just waiting for the DEP to set a date for the meeting.

Paul Kearney asked what was the thought process for extending the Mountain Creek agreement with the township a number of years ago. Mr. Scerbo and Mr. Wenner said that was within the jurisdiction of the township, and the VTMUA was not part of deciding that agreement.

John Perry asked if there was any indication that the township has the manpower to fulfill the obligations for operating the sewers. Mr. Scerbo said he understands nothing has changed in that regard. He said there was a question regarding what could occur if there were an emergency that required additional manpower of hours. The result was that Mr. Scerbo would contact the business administrator and the DPW director to get any such emergency matters done to adjust the schedules if needed.

Edward Snook asked who owns the line from the pump station to the treatment plant in Hamburg. John Scerbo said the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority owns it.

11. Chairman’s Comments

Chairman Thomas Buchney asked for an update on the Sensaphones and how they are working. Mr. Scerbo said they have been reliable alarm mechanisms and have not given any problems. He also said the last piece of the implementation of the Sensaphones is to get the reports from it. VTMUA Engineer Ceren Aralp will analyze those reports and bring back the information to the commissioners.

12. Executive Session

WHEREAS, the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 permits the exclusion of the public in certain circumstances; and

WHEREAS, this public body is of the opinion that such circumstances presently exist.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority of the Township of Vernon as follows.

1. The public shall be excluded from discussion of and action upon the hereinafter-specified subject matter.

2. The general nature of the subject matter to be discussed is Litigation and Personnel.

John Perry moved to go into executive session at 7:50 p.m.
Paul Kearney seconded the motion.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Paul Kearney, John Perry, Edward Seger, Edward Snook, and Thomas Buchney
Nays: None

The VTMUA went into executive session at 7:50 p.m. Formal action may be taken when the meeting opens back to the public.

13. Return to Public Session

Edward Snook moved to close executive session and return to public session at 9:20 p.m.
Paul Kearney seconded the motion.
All were in favor.

The VTMUA went back into public session at 9:20 p.m.

Attorney Richard Wenner said the VTMUA needs to entertain a motion to authorize a matter regarding personnel discussed in executive session.

Edward Seger moved to approve.
John Perry seconded the motion.

Discussion: None

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: John Perry, Edward Seger, Edward Snook, Paul Kearney, and Thomas Buchney
Nays: None

14. Open the Meeting to the Public

Edward Snook moved to open the meeting to the public.
John Perry seconded the motion.
All were in favor.
The meeting was opened to the public.

Mayor Harry Shortway came forward and said they have an obligation to try to save the ratepayers money. He said they are carrying the burden for the sewer system. He said Mountain Creek never developed like they were supposed to. He said he is asking the authority to put out an RFP, catered directly to the system, to see what comes back. He said he would gladly sign a one-year contract until January 31, 2018. He said he wants to study if they could do it more economically than to have the DPW operate the sewers, if they could run the system cheaper. He said in his discussions with John Perry and Suez, the VTMUA is currently averaging 56 hours a week manpower on the system. They believe the VTMUA could do it for 30 hours. That would be a considerable savings, he said. He said it would result in a $6.70 savings per line item (taxpayer) town wide per year. If the VTMUA can reduce the costs by $50,000, they will save each sewer user $31 a year, the mayor said. He said with the $6.70 savings to each taxpayer, they could buy a Quesadilla Supreme at Taco Bell. He said he was of the understanding that the RFP was going out, but it never did. If the VTMUA does not put out an RFP, he said he is “going to force it” and “will take the DPW workers back.” The mayor claimed the DPW is not getting its work done on the roads and needs more manpower, and he thought the DPW was going to be back by July 1.

Edward Seger asked the mayor what would happen if the VTMUA puts the RFP out and does not get satisfactory results. The mayor said he would then give the VTMUA a two-year contract with the DPW, and the council would support that. If the VTMUA cannot show that savings, the mayor would agree to a two-year contract. He said he would forward to the VTMUA the numbers he and CFO Elke Yetter put together so they could see by the numbers that they are looking at. Chairman Thomas Buchney asked the mayor to also provide them with the numbers Suez came up with. The mayor told him to ask John Perry for the numbers. Mr. Buchney said he could ask Mr. Perry but he is also asking the mayor. Mayor Shortway said Suez did not give him any numbers. The mayor said to go back to the numbers from when Suez (formerly United Water) ran the system more than six years ago. The mayor claimed United Water told him it should never be as expensive as it is costing the VTMUA to run the sewers now.

Sally Rinker came forward and said based on what she heard from the mayor they are back to square one and the mayor seems to be pushing the VTMUA to the wall on something that is a very serious concern for their town. She said she does not know how they will make numbers out of nowhere work, and she stands on the fact that the DPW is the best deal. It is unfortunate, and she is very disappointed in what she just heard from the mayor, she said.

John Perry responded by saying everyone has the best interest of Vernon, with the township overall and the ratepayers in mind, and they, the VTMUA, have not made up their minds about anything yet. They are getting more information, and they are going to make the best decision possible.

Edward Snook said he agrees they have to look into it and get all the information, but from his personal experience several years ago adding more hours and manpower to the DPW staff as the mayor wants for the roadwork is not going to get any more done for the township than what they are getting done right now because the DPW has different equipment, and that equipment is new but is not going to do the job on the roads because it is not meant for this town and the DPW is wasting its time, he said. He knows that compared to the equipment the township owned when he was DPW director, and the DPW equipment now is inferior he said.

Councilman Patrick Rizzuto came forward and said it should be noted that the biggest benefit of the DPW working solely with the VTMUA, and not with a second private operator, is that the DPW would not be sharing equipment or manpower with another operator. The DPW employees are members of the community, and they have a proprietary feeling and commitment to the township, he said. That would not be the case with an independent outside operator of the system, Mr. Rizzuto said. With two different operators for day and night, inevitably if something goes wrong one will blame the other, Mr. Rizzuto said. Mr. Rizzuto said the mayor’s suggestion displays a lack of good management. He added that if the township DPW operates the sewers, the township gets an added revenue stream. If a private company operates them it becomes an appropriation.

15. Close the Meeting to the Public

Paul Kearney moved to close the meeting to the public.
John Perry seconded the motion.
All were in favor.
The meeting was closed to the public.

Adjournment

Edward Snook moved to adjourn the meeting at 9:35 p.m.
Paul Kearney seconded the motion.

Roll Call Vote:
All were in favor.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:35 p.m.

The next meeting of the VTMUA will be on September 21, 2017 at 7 p.m.

Transcribed and submitted by Jessica Paladini
Vernon Township MUA Secretary