Mayor Howard Burrell will not authorize a $350,000 bond ordinance to help pay for a proposed bandshell, he told the Township Council at its July 10 meeting.
Council members voted 3-2 to approve a resolution calling for the bond ordinance during their meeting June 26. Voting in favor were Councilmen Patrick Rizzuto, Joseph Tadrick and Bradley Sparta.
Rizzuto and Tadrick were absent from the July 10 meeting.
Burrell said he had proposed bond ordinances in the past year to finance the purchases of a $220,000 single-axle truck for the Department of Public Works, a $180,000 ambulance, $85,000 to upgrade Fire Department radios and a $46,000 asphalt hotbox to be used for road repairs.
”Before the council would vote to approve any of these items, they required that the administration provide them detailed, specific information to support the administration’s request for these items.
”And now I am being asked to authorize a $350,000 bond ordinance without being given any specifics or any details. I don’t see how any council member who claims to be concerned about high taxes in Vernon can vote to borrow an unnecessary $350,000.”
He suggested that Maple Grange Park or Town Center Park could be renamed Vietnam War Veterans Memorial Park to honor those veterans rather than building a bandshell in their honor.
”These are just two of several possible actions that our town could take to honor our Vietnam War-era veterans, and none of these actions would require taxpayers to borrow $350,000.”
During the meeting, the council introduced a proposed ordinance to establish a Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) for volunteers in township fire departments and emergency medical services.
The program would allow volunteer first-responders, such as firefighters and emergency medical technicians, to earn tax-deferred income benefits, similar to a savings account. The cost of up to $1,150 a member a year is paid by the municipality.
John Cosh, deputy commissioner of the Vernon Township Fire Department and chief of the Pochuck Valley Fire Department, said the program is aimed at retaining current volunteers and attracting new ones.
In 2000, Vernon had 188 active firefighters who answered 159 calls, he said. Ten years later, the number had fallen to 153, answering 161 calls. In 2020, there were 104 active firefighters and 340 calls. This year, there are 83 firefighters; they had answered 211 calls as of July 1.
Kevin Duffy, chief of operations of the Glenwood Pochuck Volunteer Ambulance Corps, said the volunteer organization has more than 70 members, including associates who help with fundraisers, special events and building maintenance. Seventeen people have joined so far this year.
Volunteers would be required to earn 100 points a year to qualify for the LOSAP program and they could not access the money for five years, he said. To earn points, volunteers would answer calls, undergo training, attend meetings, and participate in fundraisers and community events.
Councilwoman Peg Distasi called the LOSAP program long overdue, noting that the volunteers risk their lives to help the community.
Council president Natalie Buccieri said, “I think it’s more than fair, probably not enough. I think it’s a great benefit to those in our community who put in so much time and effort to help their neighbors.”
The cost of the program for the first year is estimated at $75,000 for firefighters and $45,000 for EMS volunteers, said Tina Kraus, the township’s business administrator. “I think those are reasonable numbers to anticipate.”
The council also approved a resolution seeking bids for a five-year contract for emergency medical services between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays.
The township’s previous contract with St. Clare’s expired.
Vernon relies on volunteers to staff ambulances on nights and weekends.
Council members discussed whether the mayor’s salary of $30,000 should be increased.
Buccieri said she believes that amount is not enough for a full-time position.
Distasi also favors an increase. “It is a full-time job now.”
She estimated that she works 10 to 15 hours a week as a council member. “That’s nothing to what the mayor does.”
Sparta said a higher salary could attract more interest in the post but “that doesn’t always mean that you’re going to get better people to run.”
He proposed that the mayor receive regular raises, such as 2 percent a year.
Members of the township’s Economic Development Advisory Committee presented a guide aimed at helping businesses interested in opening in Vernon.
The guide is online at https://www.vernontwp.com/index.php/about-vernon/starting-a-business
The committee also has conducted a survey of residents about the types of businesses they would like to see in Vernon.