The Township Council approved a $2.9 million bond ordinance to finance improvements at its meeting Monday, June 12.
The improvements include paving roads; equipment and vehicles for the Department of Public Works (DPW), an ambulance; equipment and radio upgrades for the Fire Department, lighting for a field at Veterans’ Memorial Park and paving at Maple Grange Park.
The bond ordinance is in addition to approval of an ordinance to spend $340,000 from the township’s Capital Improvement Fund on equipment for the Police and Fire Departments, DPW, emergency medical services and other departments as well as improvements to township properties.
The council also introduced a $4.3 million bond ordinance to finance expansion of the sanitary sewerage system. About $3.5 million of the total is from the congressional community funding project program, said Business Administrator Tina Kraus. The $822,000 in matching funds from the township will be repaid through connection fees to the municipal utility authority, she added.
The project is expected to connect a majority of the properties along Route 94 that previously had no access to the sewer system, Kraus said.
A public hearing and final vote on the ordinance were scheduled for Monday, June 26.
In a 3-2 vote, the council approved a resolution supporting an adult-use cannabis retail license for Mary Jane Joint, which plans to open in a 2,000-square foot storefront at 46 Route 94 in Vernon.
Council President Natalie Buccieri and Councilwoman Peg Distasi voted no.
The business has received a conditional license to sell cannabis from the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), said Matthew Fredericks, a lawyer representing the business. The next step would be to acquire an annual license from the CRC.
Debra Chase, owner of Chase Strength and Conditioning, which is located at 46 Route 94, told the council that she has been offered the job of general manager and part-ownership of Mary Jane Joint.
She told the council that she received a great deal of support for her business when it opened in 2018. The business was closed in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and she has been struggling to rebuild her membership since the gym reopened.
She decided to change her business after “cannabis is the only thing that helped me combat crippling insomnia brought on by menopause.”
”I truly believe this business will be a more lucrative venture for the township than the business I have been operating for the last five years. It will create more jobs for the community at much higher than minimum-wage rate and will create generous revenue for the town.”
State law permits towns to charge a local cannabis transfer tax of up to 2 percent on sales of recreational cannabis within their borders.
Councilman Joseph Tadrick pointed out that a previous council agreed to allow retail cannabis businesses and that cannot be changed for five years. “Whether you agree with cannabis in town or not, I think we’re legally bound to put it here, and I have no problem with it.”
Councilman Patrick Rizzuto agreed that Vernon is committed to allow retail cannabis sales and said he was voting yes to avoid legal action against the township. “Reluctantly, I vote yes. Very reluctantly.”
Buccieri said she consistently has opposed cannabis sales in Vernon. “I don’t feel that I need to change what my conscience dictates because of a previous council’s decision.”
Council members earlier pointed out that a township ordinance prohibits businesses with names that refer to marijuana, and Fredericks said the name could be changed easily.
The matter now goes to the township’s Land Use Board.
Council members tabled a resolution to seek bids for a contract for emergency medical services to make some changes in the wording.
Kraus explained that Vernon’s contract with St. Clare’s for ambulance coverage from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays expired in 2021. About a month ago, St. Clare’s said it was pulling its ambulance out of Vernon.
“They are still responding to calls during the day shift when they can, but we’re not a priority to them at this point right now because there is no contract with us,” she said.
The township relies on the volunteer Vernon Township Ambulance Squad the rest of the time as well as on weekends and holidays.
”We appreciate all of you, and we rely on everything you do,” Kraus told squad members attending the meeting. “We’re not trying to get rid of you.”
The resolution would be to obtain the same coverage that St. Clare’s previously was contracted for, she added.
Ad filmed at track
During the meeting, Mayor Howard Burrell reported that C+A Global, an Edison-based company that makes consumer products and photographic equipment, recently filmed an ad for its bike products at the Town Center Park and Pump Track.
”Having C+A Global film some of their ads and commercials at our Town Center Pump Track will result in this special amenity creating an unexpected financial benefit for our town’s taxpayers,” he noted, because the township imposes filming permit fees and daily filming fees.
“Because C+A Global aggressively promote their products through ads on their website, on Amazon, on YouTube, on Instagram, on Facebook and on other social media platforms, it’s very likely that other corporations will see these ads and commercials and will be impressed with our Pump Track and its scenic views; and I am hopeful that this visibility will generate Vernon additional revenue from others desiring to film at this scenic location.”
The council approved resolutions that will:
• End Vernon’s participation in the state health benefits plan and authorize it to join the North Jersey Municipal Employee Benefits Fund. The state plan recently raised its rates 21 percent, prompting many towns to find another option.
• Add a community grant of about $3.5 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the municipal budget.
• Add a $61,134 Clean Communities grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to the municipal budget.
• Confirm Peter Laemars as judge of Vernon Municipal Court.
• Reappoint Kristen Umansky as tax assessor.
Whether you agree with cannabis in town or not, I think we’re legally bound to put it here, and I have no problem with it.” - Councilman Joseph Tadrick