Minutes: May 6, 2021
These minutes are a synopsis of the meeting that took place on 5/6/2021. 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 7:03 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:
The following professionals were present: Steven Benosky, Engineer; Donelle Bright, Administrator; Howard Lazier, Licensed Operator; Jaclyn McCabe, Recording Secretary; Rich Wenner, MUA Attorney
5. Open Meeting to the Public (for Agenda Items Only)
Mr. Pitsker motioned to open to the public, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott, and carried by unanimous vote. Ms. Bright informed there were no members of the public and she did not receive any correspondence to read into the record.
Mr. Kearney made the motion to close to the public, which was seconded by Mr. Pitsker, and carried by unanimous vote.
6. Approval of Minutes:
a. March 18, 2021
Mr. Pitsker motioned to approve the minutes, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott and declared carried by Mr. Furrey upon affirmative votes of Mr. Furrey, Mr. Kearny, Mr. McDermott, Mr. Pitsker and Ms. Wheaton.
b. April 1, 2021
Mr. McDermott motioned to approve the minutes, which was seconded by Ms. Wheaton and declared carried by Mr. Furrey upon affirmative votes of Mr. Furrey, Mr. Kearny, Mr. McDermott, Mr. Pitsker and Ms. Wheaton.
7. Resolutions: #21-30 Resolution Cooperative Pricing
Ms. Bright explained that this is an RFP for emergency service quotes. Mr. Benosky compiled all the information and contact was made with Sussex Borough, however, they have not responded. Ms. Bright explained when going out for and RFP for cooperative pricing a resolution must be passed to establish the cooperative pricing system and go out to bid and Sussex Borough would have to do same. The VTMUA is taking the steps to complete this and a time frame should be established for Sussex Borough to respond. Ms. Bright noted that the system is aging and this needs to be done in a timely manner. Mr. Furrey stated that he spoke to Mr. Hallowich, the Sussex Borough Town Council President, and was informed that they had a Town Council meeting on Tuesday and the RFP was to be discussed. Mr. Furrey added this resolution should be passed while awaiting the response from Sussex Borough and if a response is not given shortly it will go out to bid. Mr. Pitsker asked if a sixty day timeline would be reasonable for a response from Sussex Borough or if that is too long. Ms. Bright responded that she will handle the RFP with the QPA and that Sussex should be given thirty days to respond. Mr. Furrey stated that to reach back out to the engineer from Sussex and if he does not have clear direction by May 27, 2021, the VTMUA will move on.
Mr. Pitsker moved to pass the resolution, seconded by Mr. McDermott and declared carried by Mr. Furrey upon affirmative votes of Mr. Furrey, Mr. Kearney, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton and Mr. Pitsker.
8. Administrator/Licensed Operator Updates
Ms. Bright informed the Board that about the progress of PS2 and figures are still being gathered for Mt. Creek. Ms. Bright added that she did receive estimated on the I-Bank funding from the auditor who can run the amortization schedules. Ms. Bright will complete the calculations for the future deficits as Mt. Creek had questions on how any revenue would affect their future deficit contribution to the MUA budget. The rates revenue is already known for the transfer station and is based on what Dave Bower gave of 100,000 gallons contributed daily. The information from Mr. Benosky that was distributed to the Board on the future plans for expansion need to be included in the design of the pump station. Mr. Benosky added that Mt. Creek has a lot of development that could occur if they build out to their Master Plan, which may or may not happen, and an analysis was put together for the future capacity of the pump station. Mr. Furrey asked if there is a danger that the pump station can be overdesigned. Mr. Benoksy responded that it could but he suggests going with a medium case scenario for the pump station which would not present a detrimental concern. Mr. Furrey requested that the Board review the preliminary design document from Dewberry and offer any questions or comments to Mr. Benosky. Mr. Shortway inquired that if it is planned now to handle a moderate increase from town center and Mt. Creek, with the possibly to expand to the full amount in the future, which may or may not happen, that there should be an agreement with Mt. Creek that they will be liable for future buildout if it occurs. Mr. Furrey added that the way to prevent any issue moving forward is that once the preliminary design is completed to present it to Mt. Creek with clear expectations on what is being completed. Mr. Furrey also stated that there is a danger of overdesigning the pump station as it can be predicted what the MUA will do but not Mt. Creek’s development will be; because of this there needs to be total buy in from Mt. Creek. Ms. Bright added that she will send the report form Mr. Benosky to Mt. Creek with all of the information that they have requested. Additionally, Ms. Bright stated that if Mt. Creek was going to expand in the future they would have to go before the Land Use Board and show the ability to push things through the pump station for expansion; the point of a disaster would not happen but they would not be able to expand if the pump station could not accommodate the flow. Mr. Shortway stated that working as closely as possible with Mt. Creek is imperative as they are the apart of the community, our largest customer and are fulfilling all of their obligations.
Ms. Bright reported that there has been some correspondence with the DEP on the issues with the transfer station. The DEP is giving possible objections but not clear statutory issues with the idea of a transfer station in Vernon. Mr. Benosky agreed with Ms. Bright and stated that in the letter that was received the objections were left up to interpretation. Mr. Benosky added, for example, that the DEP suggested to look at parts of the NJAC where the recommendations for wastewater pump stations; it is stated that the wastewater pump station is intended for sewage, making it unclear on what the response means. Mr. Furrey asked for the document to be sent to the Board and to review the letter and help with the interpretation.
Ms. Bright informed the Board that she has reached out to other municipalities and reviewed the SCUMA rates. The connection fees do not vary by municipality; SCUMA bases their connection fee off the town approval and then calculates per EDU which is $7,065 per EDU. The auditor is looking into the connection fee calculations for VTMUA, which is currently $4,665, so there should be data for the next meeting. Mr. Pitsker added that the connection fees need to be reviewed as they have not been looked at since 2011. Mr. Furrey asked Mr. Wenner if this can be reviewed during the meeting based off the memo that was sent out. Mr. Wenner stated that there is no mystery to the connection fee and that is it a statutory formula that established how connection fees are calculated and recalculated on an annual basis. Mr. Wenner recommended that it would be best to wait until the next meeting when there is more comprehensive discuss based off the actual calculations.
Ms. Bright reported that the force main evaluation was completed and will be added to the existing asset management plan; which will then be able to be approved and completed. The PS2 funding with I Bank is contingent on the asset management plan being completed.
Ms. Bright then reported that a meeting was held with the Senator on the sewer service area mapping which went well. There is another meeting scheduled with the Senator and the DEP on May 18, 2021, there is support at the state level and this is moving in the right direction.
Ms. Bright stated that the updates on the capital items was distributed to the Board. There are new items from the safety review and clarification on railings that are needed, which have now been added.
Ms. Bright updated that the OPRA requests that were made will be finalized tomorrow and sent out. Also noted was Ms. McCabe has updating the filing system and organized the files for easier review. The MUA laptop is being updated to include office and will be able to be utilized. Ms. Bright reviewed that the safety review will be completed annually to stay in compliance. The safety auditor is also working on a town wide plan as well so that it is not just an MUA plan; it will address not only the sewers but the storm drains as well.
Mr. Furrey questioned Ms. Bright if there is a time for the meeting with Senator Oroho on the May 18. He further explained that this meeting is with the Senator and the Commissioner of the DEP hopefully many of the issues will be resolved. Senator Oroho has been very helpful and he understands the gravity of the situation.
Mr. Lazier reviewed that during the safety review at PS1 there were wires left exposed after the pipe job was completed. This was resolved; however, where the inspector wanted the wires would not be feasible if the tank needed to be accessed. The wires were placed behind the ladder and are now in compliance. Also noted was the landscaping needs to be maintained. Mr. Lazier reported that at PS2 the landscaping also needed to be maintained. At PS2, the railings need to be adjusted for safety. However, fixing the railing will be up to the MUA since a new pump station is being built but PEOSHA may not agree if they come out. Ms. Bright added that the railing height is 36" and the standard is now 42"; companies are coming out to give quotes on updating the railing to make a decision.
Mr. Lazier reported that a pressure gauge was installed on the main. During the inspection it was noticed that the blowers in the back building were moving and although there is a cage over the belt the auditor would like the entire motor caged. Mr. Benosky inquired if readings could be obtained from the pressure gauge for each pump running. Mr. Lazier reported that this can be recorded. Mr. Pitsker questioned how Mr. Benosky would like this completed and was informed that both pumps are rarely or never running at the same time. Mr. Lazier added that to obtain the reading you must get down into the hole and it is a digital reading. Mr. Benosky requested that the initial 30 seconds when the pump is coming online should be disregarded and then monitored for one minute after to obtain an accurate reading. Mr. Furrey inquired what pressure reading is and was informed 24 PSI; which Mr. Furrey comments was very low.
Mr. Furrey requested that a brief review of the force main evaluation be given. Mr. Lazier reported that the closest manhole to the golf course, #3 on the diagram, went out easily. They used the CCTV from the golf course to Falkenstein and it was clean until it dropped into the gravity where sludge was found and the camera could not move through. It was suggested that this be flushed. When the camera went back to the hotel the overall section looked good. Mr. Furrey inquired about the force main review along the railroad tracks. Mr. Lazier responded that there was no camera work performed on that force main and only PS3 was completed. Mr. Furrey directed his question to Ms. Bright if the force main on the railroad tracks was to be evaluated. Ms. Bright responded that it was never part of the specs only PS3 was to be completed. Mr. Furrey inquired when the video and report will be available and was informed that the company will be contacted to obtain the video. Mr. Lazier reported that he was very happy with Ferroro and they were very efficient. Mr. Lazier also reported that the next manhole did have low spots where the camera was underwater and then in resurfaced; this happened both ways. The low spots also occurred at the first manhole. Mr. Lazier reported that all in all the force main connections look good.
Mr. Pitsker inquired on the list of capital items can notes be added on what percentage of the project has been completed; this will be beneficial for clarity. Ms. Bright responded that this can be done; however, some of the items will not be completed as they are backups.
9. Open to the Public for Items Not on the Agenda
Motion to open to public comments was made Mr. Kearney, seconded by Ms. Wheaton, and carried via unanimous vote.
Jessi Paladini requested to know if the OPRA request she made will be one that is ready tomorrow. Ms. Bright thanked Ms. Paladini for her patience. There were only large paper copies of the maps and her request will be completed tomorrow.
Seeing no one else wished to be heard, motion to close to public comments was made by Mr. Kearney, seconded by Mr. Pitsker, and carried via unanimous vote.
10. Work Session:
a. Old Business:
i. ACME and Vacant Properties
Mr. Wenner stated that the law is very simple and there is not a lot of ambiguity in the laws to whether adjustments can be made for commercial properties with multiple tenants who are experiencing vacancies; this can be done. However, the more global question is one of a policy position and the MUA needs to decide on taking action or not. The danger in pursuing a policy on the adjustment of EDU calculations based on vacancy rates is that because the MUA is not flow based. There are many reasons for this including: losing EDUs as we’re are trying to add EDUs to the systems would be counterproductive to the goals and efforts of the MUA; constant changing of EDUs will wreak havoc on the budget and forecasting revenue while adding to administrative costs and billing issues; commercial properties owners may not fill the vacant property if the owner is not paying the EDUs on the vacant location. Mr. Wenner informed the Board that there are commercial property owners, not referring the Acme owners, who own commercial properties as a dumping ground for business losses for tax purposes. Additionally, even if not connected to the system, users are still being charged the connection fee and being billed for their EDU calculation, so it may not be equitable to lower the EDU calculation due to vacancies. Mr. Wenner pointed out that the MUA has to decided which direction it want to go in and does the Board want to make limited exceptions to unique circumstances. Mr. Furrey agreed with Mr. Wenner that it is a slippery slope as there is a struggle with EDUs to begin with. He further added that there are areas to work on to reduce rates and although there is a desire to do something it will be too difficult to manage. Mr. Kearny added when the initial conversation around this issue came up he was sympathetic. After reading the memo, the EDU standard should be maintained and not be reduced. Mr. Kearney added that many properties have been purchased and there will be future expansion contributing to the system. However, if the real estate market goes down there would still be a responsibility to pay to fees associated; so, we have to ensure that when properties are purchased bills are paid just as taxes still have to be paid. Mr. Shortway added because you are not living in a home you are still paying taxes and for municipal services. Mr. Shortway further added that if breaks are given for vacant commercial properties it will be difficult to keep up with currently and in the future. Additionally, every effort is being made to control connection fees and obtain more users. When the bonds increase in 2023, what will effects be if property owners start receiving amnesty or breaks for vacant propertied and what will be the incentive to join the system. Mr. Furrey agreed that the way to attract new users is by adjusting the connection fees. Mr. Pitsker shared the opinion of Mr. Kearney; the responsibility falls to the owner and how they are managing the business. He further stated that homeowners will still have to pay whether their home is being occupied or not. The audit on Acme was completed and as previously stated other entities will look at the reduction and also want adjustments based on their current situations. Ms. Wheaton added that this would be an administrative nightmare without being a self-regulating meter-based system and is not in favor of reducing EDUs. All members of the Board agreed of not reducing the EDU calculation at the Acme Plaza.
b. New Business:
i. Water Infrastructure Financing/Water Bank
Mr. Furrey reported that he attended an IBank seminar and concluded that there is tremendous amount of funding available through the DEP and the MUA will take full advantage of it. Ms. Bright reported that the first step in getting water to town center is meeting with Suez again. The town has been in touch with Tony; the 2018 agreement was sent out; however, more information needs to be added. The Township has given the MUA the lead to work on this project and once the plan is in place we can then apply for the IBank funding. The majority of work is done by the engineer after set up. I Bank then will help with notes and short-term financing and at completion will place permanent bonding through them, not a separate financial institution. There is also different levels of financing forgiveness or mixed rates depending on the type of project and what funding is available. Ms. Bright stated that this project is moving forward. Mr. Furrey requested Mr. Benosky to pivot to the water side; documentation that was done by the Suez engineering firm that can be provided to get started in terms of water supple. Mr. Furrey inquired about the funds the Township received under the American Rescue Plan. Ms. Bright replied that the Township should receive around $2 million, however, there is no guidance on when it will get here or how it is received. There are stipulations on how the funds are to be spent however, water and sewer are areas that are included. Mr. Furrey added that he was contacted by The Bergan Record and there is interest in what towns are going to do with the funding when it is received. Although exact details of what other towns are going to do are unknown it seems that many are going to use them for water and wastewater.
ii. Overcharges of Jan. 2020-Sept. 2020 Sewer Fees at 2 Snowbird Ct. Unit 5
Ms. Bright informed the Board that in 2020 the property owner of 2 Snowbird Ct contacted the MUA stating that he was being charged for a two-bedroom unit when the unit was only one bedroom. Ms. Bright stated that the tax assessor went out and inspected the property and confirmed that it is a one-bedroom unit. Last year the resolution 20-50 approved the EDUs to be .6. The property owner had recently stopped into the office and stated that he has been trying to get the EDU reduction resolved since he purchased the property. Ms. Bright added that there is no written communication that can be found regarding this issue; however, the property owner stated that he had verbal communication with the former Executive Director. Ms. Bright asked the Board if a refund can be given from the beginning of 202. Mr. Furrey asked Ms. Bright is the resolution to consider is 20-50 to which Ms. Bright responded that it was already passed and since an effective date was not formally included it will be the date that the resolution was passed. Ms. Bright asked Mr. Wenner if there needed to be a resolution to refund the monies owed to the property owner. Mr. Wenner responded that since the resolution was to be effective January 1st and they paid three quarters are the .9 EDU count a refund can be given or a credit to the account. Mr. Pitsker inquired what the town policy for a tax reduction. Ms. Bright answered that with taxes they are assessments in which property owner’s appeal by the court process. Mr. Wenner added that typically with an overpayment of taxes then a refund is given; a tax appeal can either be a refund or credit. Mr. Furrey inquired that if a credit is given is a resolution necessary. Mr. Wenner responded that if a credit is given a motion can be made immediately to resolve the issue. Mr. Furrey preferred to do a credit to which Ms. Wheaton stated she agreed.
Mr. McDermott motioned to provide the credit, seconded by Mr. Furrey and declared carried by Mr. Furrey upon affirmative votes of Mr. Furrey, Mr. Kearney, Mr. McDermott, and Ms. Wheaton. Mr. Pitsker abstained from voting.
11. Resolution: #21-31 Executive Session
Mr. Pitsker made the motion to move to Executive Session, which was seconded by Ms. Wheaton. Mr. Furrey declared carried upon the affirmative votes of Mr. Kearney, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. Shortway and Mr. Furrey.
Mr. Kearney made the motion to move back to the regular meeting, which was seconded by Mr. McDermott. Mr. Furrey declared carried upon the affirmative votes of Mr. Kearney, Mr. McDermott, Ms. Wheaton, Mr. Pitsker, Mr. Shortway and Mr. Furrey.
12. Commissioners’ Comments
Ms. Wheaton had no further comments.
Mr. Pitsker stated that the capitals list and the reports that are being published with the agenda are helping with communication and providing clarity. Mr. Pitsker would like Mr. Benosky to start putting together project timelines for an idea when the work will start. Additionally, if the PS2 and transfer station projects are going to be separate projects a schedule should be made for both.
Mr. Shortway thanked the professionals for the information that is now being given to the board which he has not seen since 2016. Mr. Shortway requested an updated report on the Green Realty situation including dates paid, money received, and money owed to narrow down the mistakes and ensure that they are not made in the future. Mr. Shortway added that it needs to be known what transpired with this property. Mr. Shortway also added that he has been told by residents that there was a letter from the MUA to Green Reality that they did not have to pay and instead of receiving OPRA requests on this topic to be transparent with the information.
Mr. Kearney added that he agreed with Mr. Shortway and thanked the professionals for all of the information that is being compiled which reduces embarrassment when delivering the facts on the Green Reality property. Mr. Kearney reported that no one from the current Board was involved when many of the issues did or did not transpire so we are relying on the facts that we have filed. Moving forward, unless the documentation is present, any questions from the public should not be answered until the facts are compiled. Mr. Kearney added that this will give a more accurate representation to the people.
Mr. McDermott added that he believes that the regarding the EDU reductions for commercial properties that the right decision was made and the Board must stand its ground.
13. Chairman’s Comments
Mr. Furrey stated that the Board needs to continue to look at connection fees and establish good policies which encourage new users to hook up to the system. Mr. Furrey added that the sewer system expansion must continue as well as upgrading the system so that it is sustainable. Mr. Furrey credits the MUA for working together and there is an incredible improvement which is positive. This is the direction the Board needs to go in and these are very bold steps addressing rates and issues with strides are being made.
Motion to adjourn the meeting at 9:07 pm was made by Mr. Pitsker, seconded by Mr. McDermott and declared unanimously carried by Mr. Furrey.
Respectfully submitted by
Approved on June 3, 2021