Property sale debacle prompts mayoral apology

VERNON. Mayor Burrell takes blame for a parcel sold and repurchased by the town.

Vernon /
| 29 Jul 2022 | 04:21

The Vernon Township Council on July 25 introduced an ordinance designed to correct a mistake made by township officials when they sold two properties at auction that had township communication equipment on them.

The township plans to buy back properties at 6 Mondamin Road and 16 Shomokin Road from Jay and Michelle Thienel for $25,000.

The Mondamin Road property had one of Vernon’s five repeaters that are used to extend the range and quality of the township’s overall communications.

Mayor Howard Burrell said the $25,000 used to buy back the two properties came out of the $1.075 million in revenue the township earned from the auction. He said $675,000 of that was used to limit township residents to a 0 percent tax increase when crafting the 2022 budget.

He also said the agreement to buy back the property returns to the Thienels the money they paid for the two properties, the documented settlement and title charges, plus the insurance cost. The property at 6 Mondamin Road was sold for $8,630 and 16 Shomokin Road sold for $875, for a combined $9,505, according to data listed in the Sussex County Parcel Doc Viewer. The remaining $15,495 of the buyback price went toward the additional expenses; a complete cost breakdown was not provided by the town.

“This was an administrative error that I am neither proud of nor pleased with,” Burrell said. “Because this administrative error occurred on my watch, as mayor, I accept responsibility for it.”

However, some don’t believe he took enough responsibility, as several residents called for the mayor and whomever was responsible for the error, to reimburse the $25,000 used to buy back the property.

Burrell called it “cost-effective” because the money did not come from “taxpayer” dollars, and the township’s auditor confirmed that it is appropriate for the township to pay all the costs related to buying back the property from the auction revenue.

Council Vice President Natalie Buccieri called Burrell’s statement about the properties not being bought with taxpayer dollars “erroneous.”

“Yes, the property sale last year brought in over $1 million, but those are all tax dollars,’” she said.

The properties were on a list of 306 municipal properties to be sold, and Burrell added that the township did not suffer any reduction or loss in the quantity or quality of its communications ability in the Highland Lakes part of town.

In May, the council had authorized spending up to $10,000 to investigate how the property was sold.

Township attorney Josh Zielinski said the council is deliberating over that report and there have been threats of litigation related to it.