Taxpayers hold Q&A with Vernon officials

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:07

    Vernon — When a township manager meets with a taxpayer’s association, the first topic that would naturally come to mind is taxes. But when Melinda Carlton met recently with the Vernon Taxpayers Association, money was almost the last thing to come up. Instead, questions about personnel, hotels and the sewer system all came out instead. And, the possible purchase of the township’s sewer system seemed to be the source of the most confusion for all in attendance. Resident Carol Kadish was the first to bring up the topic. She asked whether Vernon was going to expand the existing system and what the costs would be. Carlton said that the issue was not yet decided by the council, but that United Water, current owner of the sewer system, would not be putting in any additional lines in the town center unless Vernon purchases the system. Mayor Austin Carew, who was in the audience, also spoke up on the subject. He reported that United Water has asked the town council to spend $1.5 million for the two eight-inch wide pipes that run from the McAfee water processing station to the town center, which are not currently in use. The last time the council voted whether to set a referendum on the project, back in 2007, they deadlocked. It’s been under discussion ever since. Resident Dick Conklin questioned why the town would want to own the system, considering the costs involved. He also questioned the construction of the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority pumping station in McAfee, a subject that brought up questions from all over the room regarding the safety of the water that was being treated by the county and then being pumped back into the ground. Who’s on staff? Another big issue for those at the meeting, held at the Nordic House on Feb. 25, was personnel. Many in attendance agreed that changes need to be made in staffing at town hall. “We believe that there are people in town hall who shouldn’t be there because of the mistakes they made,” said resident Jessi Paladini, who moderated the event. “I do also believe that our former manager built himself an empire. He brought in the Department of Engineering and the Department of Personnel.” The Department of Engineering in particular was targeted due to the water issues in the town center. “I’ll just come right out and say it, the town engineer shouldn’t be employed here,” said resident Jeff Blank. If Vernon cut that office and outsourced the work, Paladini said, it could result in a cost savings for the town. Carlton disagreed. Hiring outside engineers would be more expensive in the long run, she asserted. Mayor Carew defended the town center and its issues. When the new council started looking at the project, he said, “everyone had a different idea of the town center’s progress. One of the elements we uncovered was the eight-inch water pipe that hadn’t been connected. When we uncovered the fact that we needed the water franchise, we went right after it.” He also pointed out that there are businesses in the town center with their own water supplies, a fact that didn’t appease Paladini. “But the fact remains,” she countered, “that if a new business comes into the town center, they would have to dig a well.” Why build for more tourists? Business was one of the other topics discussed, mainly hotels. A local contractor asked how the township could consider or authorize another hotel, this one at the intersection of Routes 517 and 94, when the two hotels in the township are empty. Mayor Carew took that question. “People’s property is their property,” he said. “If a person owns a piece of property it’s their right to decide what to build on it. It’s his money and his plan. We can only guide him through zoning, which is what we have done in the past.” He also said that the council had asked that developer a similar question. The developer believes he can make another hotel work. Visionaries welcome Resident Tony Federici came out in support of Carew, saying “Entrepreneurs take risks and can be rewarded for those risks. We all have a vision — don’t harm other people’s visions.” But, resident Gary Martins wasn’t convinced. “What happens if the hotels fall through? The town must have a backup plan if the hotels fail.” He cited the example of the Grand Cascades Lodge in Hamburg, where he said that people had bailed out of buying suites when they found out that they couldn’t stay year-round. “The economy is getting worse, day by day. We need to go back to the budget and amend it to cut out whatever we can.”