Minutes: July 1, 2021

These minutes are a synopsis of the meeting that took place on 7/1/2021. Copies of the recording are available at the office of the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority (the “MUA”).

1. Call to Order

The regular meeting of the MUA was convened at 7:00 p.m.

2. Statement of Compliance

Pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act, Chapter 213, PL 1975, adequate notice as defined in Section 3D of Chapter 231, PL 1975 of this regular meeting was provided to the public and the press on December 22, 2020 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.

3. Salute to the Flag

4. Roll Call of Members and Professionals

The following members were present:
Michael Furrey
Paul Kearney
Andrew Pitsker
Harry Shortway
Scott Galway

The following members were absent:
Kristin Wheaton
Dave McDermott

The following professionals were present:
Donelle Bright, Administrator; Rich Wenner, MUA Attorney; Steve Benosky, Engineer; James Schappell, Engineer; Howard Lazier, Licensed Operator; Jaclyn McCabe, Recording Secretary.

5. Open Meeting to the Public (for Agenda Items Only)

Mr. Kearney motioned to open to the public, which was seconded by Mr. Shortway, and carried by unanimous vote. Ms. McCabe informed there were no members of the public and did not receive any correspondence to read into the record.

Mr. Shortway made the motion to close to the public, which was seconded by Mr. Kearney, and carried by unanimous vote.

6. Approval of Minutes:

a. June 3, 2021

Mr. Shortway made the motion to approve the minutes which was seconded by Mr. Pitsker and declared carried by affirmative votes of Mr. Furry, Mr. Kearney, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. Shortway, and Mr. Galway.

b. June 17, 2021

Mr. Pitsker made the motion to approve the minutes which was seconded by Mr. Shortway and declared carried by affirmative votes of Mr. Furry, Mr. Kearney, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. Shortway, and Mr. Galway.

Mr. Furrey inquired if meetings should begin to be in person, kept virtually, or a hybrid model. Mr. Kearney responded that he is open to all options. Ms. Bright stated all the hardware to have hybrid meetings should be ready by the beginning of August; with full hybrid meetings established by the second meeting in August. Mr. Kearney inquired what a hybrid model consists of. Ms. Bright responded that there are municipalities who are currently using a hybrid model; Commissioners, Professionals, and the public would have the option to come to the in-person meeting or to attend via Zoom. Mr. Shortway asked if the mask mandate is currently still in effect at the Municipal building. Ms. Bright answered that it is and with social distancing guidelines a maximum amount of 20 people can be in attendance. Mr. Kearney inquired if masks will be required during an in-person meeting if it is under the maximum allowed. Ms. Bright answered that if social distancing guidelines can be met they will not be required; however, confirmation from Administration will be needed. Mr. Kearney added that if all Members are present and sitting at the front it will not be able to be socially distant. Ms. Bright asked Mr. Shortway if the Members split up between the two levels if that would be a sufficient amount of socially distancing. Mr. Shortway respond he is also concerned that in the event that more than 20 people attend there would not adequate spacing. Mr. Shortway inquired if the plan for speakers in the hallway was put in place. Ms. Bright responded she is not aware of the particular specifications of the plan. Mr. Furrey inquired if the hybrid model is available and operating correctly if it would be reasonable to begin in August. Mr. Shortway added that Council and the Court will be starting this and the MUA can look to them for guidance on how to run the meetings smoothly. Mr. Furrey added he does not want to start a meeting and then not have it run properly. Mr. Pitsker suggested that a test run be competed to become comfortable with the technology. My. Shortway responded that if the Board is together it would be considered a meeting so a test run is not an option. Mr. Furrey stated this will be revisited when the technology is available.

7. Administrator Update

Ms. Bright updated the DEP permits were signed for PS2 and sent to Mr. Benosky to be filed with the State. Mr. Benosky added that the permit will be filed any day.

Ms. Bright requested that the connection fees be discussed and a conclusion be made during the work session tonight.

Ms. Bright reviewed that the force main inspection along the railroad was completed and there were no signs of erosion. Ms. Bright added that the final report from Dewberry has not yet been received.

Ms. Bright reported on the sewer service area mapping noting that the Mayor did send a letter to the Governor regarding the issues we are having with the DEP and the SSA. Ms. Bright added that Mr. Furrey, Mr. Wenner, and herself had a discussion regarding the SSA. In the meeting it was discussed that the Town Planer is working toward getting a state designation for the Town Center which could affect the SSA. Ms. Bright suggested that we should wait until this is completed, which should be the end of July, to push this issue any further.

Ms. Bright updated on the capital items stating the control panels came in and the specifications of the Zoeller pump are being reviewed. Ms. Bright stated that the welder has been chosen to fix the railings at the pump stations and the purchase order will be ready next week. Additionally, responses have been obtained from two vendors for emergency services quotes.

Ms. Bright reported that she met with the Town to discuss on how to utilize the funds from the American Rescue Plan. The Township can use it for many options but was concluded to use the funds for something long lasting; which is water and sewer infrastructure to help our Town Center. Ms. Bright added that estimated plans for expansion are needed, which Mr. Benosky is compiling. This will be a rough plan on four different areas of the sewer service area which will show the approximate connection costs for properties. The cost projections will be based on this rough plan combined with old estimates from Suez. In order to use the funding, you can issue a capital ordinance, to use all or part of the funding, or a bond ordinance, if the total project is more than the ARP funding. In the event of a bond ordinance, then the ARP funds can be used as part of the cash down payment. Ms. Bright suggested to put the ordinance in place, which will confirm that the plans are serious; once the estimated costs are know the ordinance will be drafted. Mr. Furrey asked both Mr. Shortway and Mr. Pitsker, since they are also on Town Council, if the ordinance is drafted can it be placed on the next council meeting agenda to be considered. Mr. Furrey added that during the meeting it was discovered that there are plans to pave RT 515 and we do not want to run into any problems like we had when RT 94 was paved. Mr. Furrey stated that in order for Suez to take us seriously this ordinance needs to be completed. Mr. Shortway responded that if he receives the ordinance he will put it on the agenda. Ms. Bright clarified that there is an estimate for water; however, we spoke about using the funds for water and sewer, so that is easy enough to address with a capital ordinance. Ms. Bright continued that it is known that the water and sewer project will be more than $2.1 million, which will then require a bond ordinance, and we will need a cash down payment on the Township side. Ms. Bright would like a ballpark cost, in order to ensure there is enough cash for the down payment and this project is done correctly. Mr. Furrey asked Mr. Benosky how quickly a technical memo can be drafted for the rough cost estimate focusing on Town Center. Mr. Benosky answered he can complete the memo in a week to ten days. Mr. Shortway added that, Corey Stoner, the Township Engineer, will have to be contacted as he has been working on this project in detail; the plan needs to be specifically laid out with realistic expectations to present to the Council. Mr. Shortway also agreed with Ms. Bright on having the cash down payment for the bond ordinance. Mr. Furry agreed with Mr. Shortway to reach out to the Township engineer as working with the Town and Council is critical. Mr. Shortway reminded that the Mayor must be informed before reaching out to the engineer. Ms. Bright stated that she will reach out to the Mayor and ask for permission to work with Mr. Stoner. Mr. Pitsker inquired if there are any water grants that could help fund this project. Ms. Bright responded that there are USDA loans for water and wastewater, however, due to Vernon’s population we would not qualify for one as it is too large. Ms. Bright stated that for the IBank funding we need to focus and figure out what the actual project will be in order to secure the funds and go for a bond ordinance after IBank approval. Mr. Furrey stated that the plan must be specific and well laid out with the projected costs included to get started with the DEP. Mr. Kearney inquired about the population size for the USDA funds is to which he was answered that the maximum population is ten thousand people. Mr. Schappell stated that those funds are population based for rural development therefore Vernon would not be eligible. Ms. Bright asked Mr. Benosky and Mr. Schappell if they have any knowledge about the CDBG grants which may have COVID related funds available. Mr. Schappell answered he did not know but will find out.

8. Licensed Operator Update

Mr. Lazier reported that there was a high level at Le Touquet for pump failure, which was promptly fixed. Mr. Lazier also reported that the bioxide was delivered, the mag meters at all stations have been calibrated, and all personal air meters have been received. Mr. Furrey asked if the alarm functioned properly during the pump failure to which he was answered that it did. Mr. Furrey inquired if the new employees are making progress pulling and maintaining the pumps. Mr. Lazier responded that they are greatly improving and the call outs have decreased. Mr. Furrey asked if they were interested in obtaining licenses. Mr. Lazier responded that they are and he is looking into the materials for them. Mr. Furrey said that the classes can be taken on-line which should be encouraged as he would like for them to both have a license. Mr. Furrey informed Mr. Lazier that because he is the licensed operator there has been a wavier granted for CE credits, however, we would still like you to obtain the credits for this year.

Mr. Pitsker asked Mr. Lazier about filling in the pipeline ravine that is near PS1 and if it is on the list of projects to complete. Mr. Benosky responded that this would be a precautionary measure that is not necessary to do immediately due to the depth of the ravine. Mr. Shortway added that the ditch runs parallel to the road so the concern is one of safety and if the funds are available it should be filled in with drainage and stones. Mr. Shortway added that this may be the area where the ATV was almost lost and he will check the report on it. Mr. Furrey questioned if this is a priority to address to which Mr. Kearney added that if it is a safety issue it should be addressed. Mr. Pitsker stated that although he knows it is not a priority it should be fixed as a preventative measure. Mr. Kearney added that safety comes first and to be proactive. Mr. Benosky stated that he did not think of it this way and was most concerned about the protection of the pipe. Mr. Benosky stated that if a recommendation is desired he can put together a description of what needs to be done. Mr. Lazier added that he does not think a drainage pipe will be able to be placed due to the location and stone will probably be best. Mr. Lazier and Mr. Benosky will review the area and construct a plan.

9. Open to the Public for Items Not on the Agenda

Motion to open to public comments was made by Mr. Kearney, seconded by Mr. Shortway, and carried via unanimous vote. Ms. McCabe informed there were no members of the public and she did not receive any correspondence to read into the record.

Motion to close to public comments was made by Mr. Pitsker, seconded by Mr. Shortway, and carried via unanimous vote.

10. Work Session

a. Old Business

i. Connection Fees

Mr. Furrey stated that the connection fee analysis has been distributed for review by the Board and asked Ms. Bright to explain the breakdown. Ms. Bright stated that she took existing calculated EDUs and current vacant properties, basing on what could potentially be constructed, and averaged them together to come up with a hypothetical amount. This is difficult to do since we do not know exactly what will be developed but it did help to show the existing connection fee would be and the total connection fee will be. Ms. Bright stated that giving the total connection, which includes SCUMA fees, gives a global perspective on what it would cost for a business to come to Vernon.

Mr. Furrey said that the choices, according to Ms. Bright’s perspective, are a 25%, 50%, or 75% reduction. Mr. Furrey asked Ms. Bright what the financial impact would be with a 75% reduction; or is it more reasonable to have a 50% reduction or a reduction scaled over time. Ms. Bright responded, in her opinion, that there are many vacant properties and consideration should be taken that if a large business comes in they may have to pay significant fees and a reduction in connection fees may be helpful to encourage development. Ms. Bright added that as the CFO she is most comfortable with a 50% reduction based on the calculations from the auditor. Ms. Bright stated that an estimated $2,300 connection fee based on the existing debt since some of the debt is paid by Mt. Creek. Ms. Bright added that some revenue will be lost, however, it is not a reoccurring revenue and is used to off set debt expenses. Additionally, even if revenue from connection fees will be reduced but if more businesses come to Town that will be made up with annual fees. Ms. Bright reported that the connections fees were not added to the budget this year as no connections were made last year. Ms. Bright added that the connection fees can be changed annually and should change if there is expansion.

Mr. Kearney inquired if past connections were given the option to pay over time or at once and if there was a reduction in the fee for paying in full upfront. Mr. Kearney added that he suggests that options are given for payments, but the longer the payment is stretched out the more it will cost. Ms. Bright stated that in 2012 there was a resolution passed that if the connection fee was paid within the first year that there was a 50% reduction and we do have a large number of connections that did that. Ms. Bright added that some properties, because of the number of EDUs, applied for hardships but still do have to pay the full connection fee amount, which is still an option for the expanded sewer service areas. Ms. Bright clarified if Mr. Kearney meant new connections or people not currently connected when talking about hardships. Mr. Kearney answered anyone that does not have the money for the fee and an extension would be helpful for them and the MUA will gain revenue making up the gap. Ms. Bright stated she is not sure if that is allowable but she will find out from the auditor.

Mr. Furrey stated that this is a decision that needs to be made and he is strongly in favor of a 50% reduction and making it official through a resolution. Mr. Furrey added that this makes a statement we are serious about getting new businesses into Town Center. Mr. Furrey asked for feedback from the Board. Mr. Shortway asked if a reduction was cause great risk to the MUA financials. Ms. Bright responded that there is currently no risk as we are not bringing in many connections. Ms. Bright added that this be readdressed when the expansion is ready to take place. Mr. Furrey questioned if the Faline building is currently paid to which was answered that they are paid in full. Mr. Shortway stated he is in favor of reducing the connection fee by 50%. Mr. Pitsker stated that he is thinking about the public impact and the past connection fees that were collected; however, he is also in favor of the reduction. Mr. Galway added that it makes sense to have as many connections as possible for the reoccurring revenue; therefore, the reduction makes sense. Mr. Kearney agreed that the reduction is appropriate and will establish reoccurring revenue. Mr. Pitsker added that the reduction be marketed as a sale for the expansion. Mr. Furrey added that if the sewer and water projects are progressing businesses will see it as a chance to come to Vernon. Mr. Furrey asked how the change is officially made. Mr. Wenner answered that it is established by resolution with the supporting documents from the auditor. Mr. Pitsker questioned when the reduction would occur, now or during the expansion. Mr. Wenner responded that the reduction will happen now and then increase again when ready to expand. Mr. Furrey asked Ms. Bright to have the resolution drafted for voting at the next meeting. Mr. Shortway added that this is the time to reduce connection fees and obtain more connections. Mr. Pitsker questioned if there is a term limit should be added to the connection fee reduction. Ms. Bright responded that the fee can and should be reviewed annually based on the debt and ceiling number. Ms. Bright added that the sliding scale was not touched on, which could make connection more affordable for development. Ms. Bright stated that something to keep in mind is that our sewer rate is twice as high as other municipalities so utilizing a sliding scale may bring in substantial development. Mr. Shortway added that lowering connection fees and bringing in water will entice new construction. Mr. Furrey stated that he spoke to Wawa and they would be interested into coming to Vernon if the rates were attractive. Mr. Pitsker added that the reduction is a marketing opportunity and realtors should be made aware. Mr. Furrey agreed and suggested to send out a newsletter to the realtors and Chamber of Commerce notifying them of the changes being made.

11. Commissioners’ Comments

Mr. Shortway requested that Ms. Bright obtain an overlay on the town Center showing the sewer pipes and the water pipes. Mr. Shortway added that there is some confusion as people think there are sewer pipes on Main St. and this will clearly show where the pipes are. Mr. Shortway asked if all the Commissioners can have a copy of the maps.

Mr. Pitsker no further comments.

Mr. Kearney no further comments.

Mr. Galway agreed with Mr. Shortway in that the maps will be helpful as he is new and trying to learn the plans. Mr. Galway asked if there will be any potential issues with the upcoming paving of 515. Ms. Bright responded we are looking into that and have reached out to the DOT. Ms. Bright added she spoke to Administration and they have not received notification which and they are supposed to be notified if work will be done. Additionally, after speaking to county they have recognized that they will have to be more lenient because of the ARP funding. My. Galway asked if there is any further action needed in regards to the letter sent to the Governor regarding the DEP. Ms. Bright answered there are notes in the administrative report and we want to wait to see what happens with the Town Center endorsement which supersedes the Highlands Town Center and will put us in conformance with the master plan.

12. Chairman’s Comments

Mr. Furrey commented as always, we are moving in the right direction project moving forward taking steps to position MUA to meet the challenges of 2023. Mr. Furrey thanked Dewberry for all of the hard work with the many projects and your support to move forward quickly.

13. Adjournment

Motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:13 p.m. was made by Mr. Pitsker, seconded by Mr. Shortway and declared unanimously carried by Mr. Furrey.

Respectfully submitted,
Jaclyn McCabe
Recording Secretary
Minutes approved 8/5/2021