Minutes: June 19, 2014

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, June 19, 2014 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 January 2, 2014 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
Barbara ChorzepaA
Gloria GalloP
James KensekP
Roy TanfieldP
Phyllis PfeiferP
Vincent ZinnoP

Professional Staff Present

Attorney John Ursin, Engineer Ceren Aralp, and Executive Director John Scerbo were also present.

1. Oath of Office

Attorney John Ursin administered the oath of office to Phyllis Pfiefer, who was appointed to the VTMUA as Alternate #2.

2. Open Meeting for Public Comment

Motion to open the meeting to the public was made by Thomas Buchney.
Seconded by James Kensek.
All were in favor.

Russell Thomas, past manager and life member of VFW Post 8441 came forward and asked the VTMUA to come up with a solution to their problem regarding the lack of funds to connect to the sewer. He said the post would be forced to close if it had to pay the connection fees because they do not have the money. VTMUA Chairman Vincent Zinno asked Mr. Thomas what is the VFW’s hardship. Mr. Thomas said that in 2010 the VFW was told it would be exempt from hookup because they have an operating septic system and if the system failed they would have to connect to the sewers. The VFW septic system has not failed, Mr. Thomas said. He said the VFW does not have $35,000 to connect to the sewers and asked for another option.

VTMUA Commissioner Gloria Gallo asked Mr. Thomas if the VFW has put in an application. Mr. Thomas said they submitted “application after application for a hardship.” VTMUA Executive Director John Scerbo said the sewer authority has not received any applications whatsoever from the VFW and has had nothing in writing from them. Mr. Scerbo said he has spoken with four representatives of the VFW who have come to see him, but none of them have come back with anything.

Bob Constantine, former VFW commander and treasurer/spokesman, came forward. He said when he first contacted the VTMUA, he was told to come in to discuss the VFW. He said he verbally stated they had a hardship but was told there is no hardship. Mr. Constantine did not identify with whom he spoke at the VTMUA. He said the second time he met with John Scerbo and asked for a hardship. Chairman Zinno asked if the request was formalized in writing. Mr. Zinno said he remembers a discussion about a right-of-way but has seen no documents requesting a hardship, which is the VTMUA procedure according to its rules and regulations. John Scerbo reiterated that he has no documents from the VFW in his files. He said he had gone to the VFW hall to investigate the average use of the facility for the EDU flow count. Mr. Scerbo said he recorded it and reported it to the VTMUA and it was approved. Mr. Scerbo said there is no form for a hardship request. The user must draft a letter stating there is a financial hardship, providing documentation of why or how a hardship exists so there is documentation of it. He said the VTMUA grants five-year payment plans for hardships and added that the SCMUA has also granted hardship payments based on the VTMUA’s approvals of hardships. Mr. Zinno said the VTMUA could not grant a hardship plan without knowing what the VFW is looking for. Mr. Constantine said they do not want a hardship plan. They want a waiver from connection to the sewers. VTMUA Attorney John Ursin said while the VTMUA has a wide range of options within its authority, there is no provision in the rules and regulations that allow an exemption from connecting. A full exemption is not one of the options the VTMUA can grant, Mr. Ursin said. He said there is nothing in the statute and nothing in the ordinance that allows them to grant such a waiver. The rules mandatorily require that all properties within the town center connect. Thus far there have not been any exceptions to that, Mr. Ursin said. The VTMUA could change its rules and create a procedure for exceptions, Mr. Ursin said. He also said the VTMUA could change, relax, or waive any procedure in an emergency. Mr. Constantine said the VFW situation is an emergency because mandatory connection will force them to close down their post. Chairman Zinno said whatever the VFW post is seeking, the first step is that it must formally be specified in writing to the VTMUA. It has to be documented before the VTMUA can take any type of action, Mr. Zinno said. Mr. Ursin also said that anything the VTMUA takes action on must be on the agenda, and that is only when something is provided in writing. Bob Constantine said he would have a letter by the next meeting. Mr. Ursin told him to submit it to the executive director at least a week before the meeting. He also stated that the VTMUA has not granted anyone an exemption from connection or from connection fees, not even schools, non-profit organizations, or municipal properties. VTMUA Commissioner Roy Tanfield asked the amount for the connection. It was stated that it is about $35,000, but Bob Constantine said they do not even have the ability to pay that amount over a 10-year period. He said they could not even afford the quarterly fees for sewer flow. Mr. Zinno said there are ways to raise the funds for the quarterly flow fees, including fundraising drives. Mr. Constantine said they do not want to connect to the sewer and said there are examples in the state where property owners have viable septic systems and have not had to connect to sewers. He said the VFW is retaining an attorney to assist them.

VFW Commander Robert Wallace said they are in the process of retaining an attorney. He said he is a lifetime resident of Vernon and does not think it is right for the VTMUA to charge the VFW for something it is not using. He said attorney John Williams would be representing the VFW.

Vernon resident Gary Martinsen claimed the state statutes for sewer authorities only have one requirement for hookup, and that is only for property owners who own three or more parcels. That is the only requirement by the state, according to Mr. Martinsen. He said the VTMUA has home rule to decide what its own regulations are. According to Mr. Martinsen other municipalities, such as the Township of Jackson and Hillsborough Township, exempt single-family residential properties and home-based businesses that are served by properly functioning septic systems. Reading from examples of relief he claimed other municipalities granted, he said they shall be exempt from the mandatory connection requirement. Mr. Martinsen said that since he does not believe the state formally requires connection to sewers, the VTMUA has other options.

Vernon resident Sally Rinker read a prepared statement defining the VFW and what it stands for. What distinguishes the VFW from other groups of veterans is that they served in active battles, she said. Ms. Rinker said the issue plaguing the Vernon VFW Post 8441 is not battle in a foreign place but a battle right here in Vernon to keep a place that has given them comfort and companionship. She said the VTMUA has made adjustments, granted hardship waivers, and extensions of time, and even offered loans to sewer users. She said the VTMUA’s rules, in Chapter 6, Section 6.1, allow for emergency exemptions, and the VFW’s situation is an emergency. She said she feels it is in the best interest of the VTMUA and of the township to grant the VFW the waiver. She said she feels the VFW deserves special consideration.

Mary Ellen Vichiconti of Lake Wanda said she has veterans in her family. She said three members of her family are interred in the William C. Doyle Veterans Cemetery in Wrightstown, NJ. She said her father-in-law was a veteran who fought in Korea, her mother served in World War II, and her father fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Ms. Vichiconti said she is a Daughter of the American Revolution, and the veterans in her family go way back to the Revolutionary War. She named a family member who fought in the American Revolution. She also said she has cousins and nephews who have fought, and the VFW issue is upsetting for her. She made the suggestion that once the VFW submits its paperwork, the VTMUA should vote to waive the veterans’ fees. She said this is not only a black eye on the township but is much worse. She said elderly gentlemen should not have to do fundraising.

Vernon resident Chris Brune stated he is from the Vietnam era. He explained the founding of the VFW posts after the Spanish-American War and World War I veterans. He said the VTMUA has ample legal basis to grant a waiver. He asked the VTMUA if they want to be the kind of town that kicks out the VFW. He asked the VTMUA to grant the waiver so the VFW can remain in the township.

Great Gorge Village resident Len Collocia spoke about a letter in the newspaper written by VTMUA commissioner Roy Tanfield. Mr. Collocia criticized the letter. He made allegedly defamatory comments about Mr. Tanfield and the mayor and township council, at which point Mr. Tanfield spoke up and disputed Mr. Collocia’s statements. Chairman Zinno told Mr. Collocia he was out of order and his comments were inappropriate. He cautioned him to keep his comments to an orderly fashion and dispense with name-calling and personal attacks. Mr. Collocia said he had a problem with Mr. Tanfield’s published letter to the editor and criticized what he alleged was Mr. Tanfield’s involvement in a survey of Great Gorge Village residents’ sewer bills. Mr. Tanfield’s assertion is that Great Gorge Village residents are being undercharged in their sewer bills. Mr. Collacia said he objects to Mr. Tanfield speaking as a citizen while sitting as a VTMUA commissioner at the table. He said if Mr. Tanfield has an opinion as a citizen, he should be sitting on the other side of the table. Chairman Zinno said that has already been addressed. Mr. Zinno said the study to which Mr. Collocia referred was not requested by the VTMUA. Mr. Collocia said Mr. Tanfield should not be speaking for Great Gorge Village.

Motion to close the meeting to the public
The motion was made by James Kensek.
Seconded by Roy Tanfield
All in favor

Mr. Tanfield addressed Mr. Collocia’s allegations. He said the water bill survey that Mr. Collocia referred to was conducted entirely by Comet Management. He said his sole role was to find an algorithm to justify the number of samples. The survey reflected five percent of samples, which he said is an adequate sample by Deloitte and Touche for justifying an entire database. He said the extent of his role was to post a notice on a Facebook page that he would like to see Great Gorge Village residents participate in the survey. He then compiled that with other data provided to him by Chairman Zinno and John Scerbo and with data from the VTMUA budget. Based on this data, he said he stated his opinion that the amount that was being billed to Great Gorge Village was fair and accurate based on the VTMUA budget and based on Great Gorge Village’s gallonage share of the total SCMUA gallonage per year. Mr. Tanfield said Mr. Collocia’s allegations are totally inaccurate. Regarding his letter to the editor, he said he felt compelled to write it to correct some inaccuracies in a news article concerning the VTMUA. Mr. Tanfield said he wants it on the record that Mr. Collocia made defamatory statements about him on a local Internet blog and he had his attorney contact Mr. Collocia to remind him of the definitions of slander and libel. He called Mr. Collocia’s allegations about him during the public portion of the meeting specious.

3. Consent Agenda

Resolution 14-23: Payment of Bills for June 19, 2014

Motion to approve the consent agenda was made by James Kensek.
Seconded by Gloria Gallo

Ayes: Thomas Buchney, Gloria Gallo, James Kensek, Roy Tanfield, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None

4. Approval of Minutes of April 17, 2014 Meeting

Motion to approve the minutes was made by Gloria Gallo.
Seconded by James Kensek

Discussion: None

Ayes: Thomas Buchney, Gloria Gallo, James Kensek, Roy Tanfield, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None

5. Receipt and Filing of Correspondence

A. Letter from Vernon Fire Department Requesting an Extension in Time for Connecting to the Sewer

The VTMUA received a letter from Vernon Fire Department President Chris Begg, requesting an exemption from hookup fees or an extension in time to pay them. Mr. Begg said the fire department is unable to financially connect to the sewer at this time. The connection would create a large financial burden on the fire department, Mr. Begg said in the letter. Executive Director John Scerbo told the commissioners after receiving the letter he asked the fire department to come in to speak with him so he could advise them on how to proceed according to the rules and regulations of the VTMUA, but no one has come in. Mr. Scerbo said the fire department’s letter is inadequate for representation of a request for a hardship plan. Upon the direction of the chairman, Mr. Scerbo said he will send them another letter by registered mail asking them again to come in to discuss the matter. Attorney John Ursin said the VTMUA has two options to compel property owners to connect to the sewers. The first is a municipal court summons. The second mechanism is regardless of whether the VTMUA grants an extension of time anyone who has not yet hooked up must begin to pay the quarterly user fees. This has been applied uniformly across users, Mr. Ursin said. For every dollar that does not come into the sewer system by someone not paying a bill or connection fees, that dollar is spread onto the other users. Mr. Scerbo said the fire department is current in the payment of its quarterly user fees.

Vincent Zinno moved to send another letter to the fire department asking them to meet with Mr. Scerbo.
Gloria Gallo seconded the motion.

Ayes: Gloria Gallo, Roy Tanfield, Phyllis Pfeifer, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None
Abstentions: Thomas Buchney and James Kensek

B. Letter from Rose Ann Brennan Asking for an Extension of Time to Connect

Ms. Brennan of Cider Mill LLC said in her correspondence to John Scerbo that she would like another extension, up until July 15, 2014, for completing the hookup to the sewers. This will be her second extension. Ms. Brennan’s user fees are paid up to date.

Gloria Gallo moved to grant the extension.
Thomas Buchney seconded the motion.

Ayes: Thomas Buchney, Gloria Gallo, James Kensek, Roy Tanfield, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None

C. Letter from Marjorie Hanus Questioning the VTMUA Returned Check Policy and Requesting a Waiver from the Returned Check Fee

Ms. Hanus said in her correspondence that she was charged $20 by the VTMUA for her check returned due to insufficient funds. She said she had no notification from her bank that her check to the VTMUA was submitted for payment, so she surmises she must have entered a wrong number in her online payment. The VTMUA had also asked Ms. Hanus to make her payment by certified check, which she objects to. She asked if she had any recourse in the matter. John Scerbo said it is possible that in her electronic payment she inadvertently transposed a number, which resulted in the returned check.

Vincent Zinno moved to deny the waiver of the VTMUA returned check fee.
Roy Tanfield seconded the motion.

Ayes: Thomas Buchney, Gloria Gallo, James Kensek, Roy Tanfield, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None

D. Letter of Resignation from VTMUA Commissioner Barbara Chorzepa

Barbara Chorzepa resigned from the VTMUA, saying due to changes in her professional life and responsibilities of her job she is no longer able to attend meetings.

Gloria Gallo moved to accept with regret Ms. Chorzepa’s resignation and to send her a letter thanking her for her service to the VTMUA.
Roy Tanfield seconded the motion.

Ayes: Thomas Buchney, Gloria Gallo, James Kensek, Roy Tanfield, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None

Ms. Chorzepa was VTMUA vice chairman. In light of Ms. Chorzepa’s resignation, James Kensek moved to appoint Thomas Buchney vice chairman of the VTMUA.
Gloria Gallo seconded the motion.

Ayes: Thomas Buchney, Gloria Gallo, James Kensek, Roy Tanfield, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None

6. Resolutions

A. Resolution 14-24: Approving a Hardship Payment Plan for Block 141, Lot 15.01 H&H Shopping Plaza

Ward Huey, owner of the H&H Shopping Plaza, requested a hardship payment plan for the $4,665 per EDU for a total of 11.5 EDUs the plaza was assessed. He also requested a 50% reduction offered by the VTMUA, making the connection fee $2,332.50 per EDU. The total connection fee shall be $26,823.75. The applicant will pay the connection fee over five years in five equal installments. Each installment will be $5,364.75 each plus 1-1/2% interest for a total of $6,169.46 per installment.

James Kensek moved to approve the hardship payment plan.
Roy Tanfield seconded the motion.

Ayes: Thomas Buchney, Gloria Gallo, James Kensek, Roy Tanfield, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None

B. Resolution14-25: Professional Services Contract for Executive Director

Vincent Zinno moved to table the resolution and to extend the current contract until the next meeting.
James Kensek seconded the motion.

Ayes: Thomas Buchney, Gloria Gallo, James Kensek, Roy Tanfield, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None

7. Attorney’s Report

Attorney John Ursin said that at previous meeting the VTMUA adjusted Mountain Creek’s EDUs for an unfinished space that was supposed to be a restaurant. The change in the EDU calculations was supposed to be retroactive to January 1, 2014. Mountain Creek has sent a letter requesting it to be retroactive further. The issue will be discussed at the next meeting of the VTMUA, Mr. Ursin said.

He also stated they are continuing to look at how to revise Resolution 11-227, which deals with the way the township council and the VTMUA inter-relate with respect to bonds and finances. He will present his review to the VTMUA at its July meeting.

Mr. Ursin also stated that there has been no new activity in the Len Collocia lawsuit against the VTMUA and the township. He said a hearing will be scheduled for the end of July or beginning of August.

8. Auditor’s Report

No report

Mr. Tanfield said he and John Scerbo had a conversation and Mr. Tanfield raised some serious issues concerning the audit. Auditor Chuck Ferraioli is looking into those concerns. Mr. Tanfield said he believes the audit should be revised.

9. Engineer’s Report

Engineer Ceren Aralp reported that the A&P Shopping Plaza had been approved for 30.5 EDUs, but based on the shopping plaza’s TWA application approved by the state the engineer’s report indicates an actual amount of 41.6 EDUs. Ms. Aralp recommended the allocation for the A&P to be changed to 41.6 EDUs. John Scerbo said the A&P has paid its connection fee on the basis of 30.5 EDUs, so if the VTMUA approves the 41.6 EDUs, the A&P will have to pay the difference. As uses for the units within the plaza change, the EDU allocation could change, he said.

Gloria Gallo moved to approve the flow calculation for the A&P Shopping Plaza at 41.6 EDUs.
Thomas Buchney seconded the motion.

Ayes: Thomas Buchney, Gloria Gallo, James Kensek, Roy Tanfield, and Vincent Zinno
Nays: None

10. Executive Director’s Report

John Scerbo reported that a tax sale on unpaid accounts will soon occur. He said last month there were 134 unpaid accounts, but some have since paid and there are currently 61 unpaid accounts. He said there will be one more attempt at getting payments, but he does not see that number getting much smaller because most of them are in foreclosure or properties that people have walked away from.

11. Commissioners’ Comments

Thomas Buchney asked what amount the 61 delinquent accounts represent. John Scerbo said from between 2-3 quarters in delinquency up to a full year.

12. Chairman Comments

Chairman Vincent Zinno said he wants to go on record stating his disappointment of how the newspapers have portrayed the issue with the VFW, making it appear as thought the VTMUA is not willing to work with them. He said the VTMUA has thus far worked with everyone in the community that has come in for hardship relief. He said he hopes the VFW will follow through with the procedure in a timely manner and asked John Scerbo to notify him if two weeks elapse and the VFW has not submitted documentation. The VFW made it clear to the VTMUA that they would provide their documentation within two weeks, he said. Mr. Scerbo also said he thinks it is appropriate for the VTMUA to ask the health inspector for comment because he knows the VFW has had trouble with their septic system to the point where the health inspector has told them that before they have an event they are going to need to have the septic pumped. Mr. Scerbo said he does not think the VFW’s septic system is as good as they believe it is. He said that in their meetings with Ms. Sanders, she indicated there were issues there.

John Ursin said the VTMUA should also review other sewer systems, such as in Sparta where connection was optional. He said the first criteria for considering exemption would be if the current septic system is functional and operating. He said the executive director should make available information from other surrounding towns for the commissioners to consider. He said there have been other non-profit groups such as the churches and the historical society, all of which are groups that do good work in the town, and there have been a precedent set with them.

Gloria Gallo said she was troubled by the fact that people are saying the VTMUA has denied the VFW when the VFW had not even come to the VTMUA to make any requests.

John Ursin said as difficult as the situation is, the one thing he stresses is the value of uniformity, applying the rules uniformly whether it is with the determination of EDUs or how people are connected and how much money is collected. Uniformity is good government, he said. If the commissioners grant an exemption, they have to think hard about whether that sets a precedent and whether it will trigger other things, Mr. Ursin said.

Phyllis Pfeifer questioned the funding the fire departments get from the township and asked if any of that funding could be used for connection fees. John Ursin said yes, they could. The fire department gets unallocated support and from time to time dedicated support for equipment and general uses such as their budgets. She asked if there are state grants available to them that would pay for connections. John Ursin said most state grant funds have been depleted and have not been replenished.

Roy Tanfield asked if the VTMUA could reduce the EDU count for the VFW and give them a hardship payment plan over a large number of years. John Scerbo said the VFW’s EDU allocation had already been lowered. Engineer Ceren Aralp said the VFW’s grease trap is also an issue that must be discussed because at the time she had done her inspection and reduced the EDU count there were some significant concerns, particularly because the VFW is in a critical section of the sewers. If the VFW grease trap is not functioning well or is not maintained properly, everything will get into the sewer system, which will lead to trouble on that easement and along Church Street and could be problematic, she said. John Scerbo said that for the commissioners’ edification eight months ago when he had an original meeting with the VFW, he observed that there was a baby shower there with about 45 people attending, and the VFW indicated that while they had a number of parties booked they were small in size. It was based on that statement that the VTMUA reduced the EDU allocation, Mr. Scerbo said.

John Ursin reminded the commissioners that the churches in town also came and pleaded hardship but had to come up with the money for the connection fees. Commissioner Gloria Gallo said she knows churches are non-profits, but they are religious and they should be separate from government, so she feels the VFW is different from the churches. John Ursin said the VFW is more analogous to the fire departments. James Kensek disagreed that the VFW is similar to the fire departments. He said the difference between the VFW and the fire departments is that the fire departments have assets and collect a substantial amount of money over the years. The VFW does not have that kind of money and is a poor organization, he said.

Chairman Zinno said every time the VFW has requested to meet with them, the VTMUA has accommodated them and it has not been the case that the VTMUA has been unwilling to work with the VFW, as it has been portrayed.

Adjournment

Motion to adjourn the meeting was made by James Kensek.
Seconded by Thomas Buchney
All were in favor.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:50 p.m.

The next meeting of the VTMUA will be on July 17, 2014 at 7 p.m.

Transcribed and submitted by Jessica Paladini
Vernon Township MUA Secretary