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Hopatcong Council Meeting: April 29, 2020 – Grace Periods – Public Comment - Clarification

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The virtual webinar of the Hopatcong Council Meeting that occurred on April 29, 2020, included multiple topics that are important to the community during this time, such as Grace Periods for Water, Sewer and Property Taxes. New services potentially being offered by the DPW for recycling and leaf bags, and the possibility of Borough employees being furloughed.

The meeting also brough some clarification regarding a recent event at the Community Center that several residents felt went beyond providing standard services.

Since this single topic took up the majority of the meeting, here are some brief facts.

Brief Overview of alleged Baby Shower:

    • Social media provided an example of a possible social event that occurred at the Community Center
    • Councilmember Jennifer Johnson following her sworn obligations to protect the Borough contacted the Mayor to report the possible issue

Councilmember Jennifer Johnson’s description of the issue seemed to be the best representation as stated as,

“It’s not about the event or the people involved, but rather it’s about it being a municipal building that is closed during executive order being opened for a few people that are friends. This makes it look like a government favor was done on tax paper money.”

Hopatcong Attorney John Ursin made it clear that the Borough and the Community Center cannot discuss services that are provided to individuals due to confidentiality of the services, and that the services provided are determined by the community center as they determine the need.

During the meeting, Mayor Michael Francis took full responsibility for the event stating,

“I made the decision based upon knowing the intimate details, which I can’t share… Three people picked up gifts that were dropped off and did a virtual thank-you. I would do the same for anyone under these particular circumstances.” He concluded with the following statements, “I think it was the right thing to do… I checked my authority to do this… it falls within my authority.”

Council Meeting Highlights: Watch Zoom Webinar

2020 BCM 04 29 2020 Meeting Movie CoverCommittee Reports:

  • The Community Center is receiving a donation of a freezer, which will be used for chicken and meat donations from two different distributors.
  • Resolution on today’s agenda provides for a 30-day delay on payments for Water, Sewer, and Property Taxes. As long as you make your payment by May 31, 2020, there be no interest charges
  • Finance Committee is looking into possible furlough for some of the Borough Employees
  • Councilmember Richard Schindelar thanked the EMS, Fire Departments and Police force for being on the front lines during this period. He also thanked Doctors, Nurses, and others for their service
    • Councilmember John Young echoed the comments
  • The County Farm and Horse show will not have a Queen of the Fair this year, which might affect the Hopatcong Pageant
  • Hopatcong Schools are closed until May 15, 2020. The Superintendent has provided an update video on the school's site, and the Hudson Maxim sale is continuing
  • Councilmember Jennifer Johnson asked why the Council has Ordinances on the agenda during a pandemic. She also requested meetings in the evening again due to scheduling conflicts, and better availability to the public that works during the day.

Administrator’s Report:

  • Borough continues to minimize expenses, including the possibility of furlough for some employees that are not being fully utilized
  • DPW will be offering through June 1, 2020, the pick-up of some items that people use the recycling center, which remains closed due to social-distancing issues
  • DPW may also be offering leaf bags for sale to the public to save the public a trip to the hardware store
  • Borough is exploring what the new normal may be in the future, including plexiglass screens for several departments. They are also looking at what other towns are doing

Public Comment:

2020 BCM 04 29 2020 Public Comment Movie CoverThe Public Comment contains so much detailed information on several key topics, we urge our readers to watch this special segment of the Zoom conference call that includes the following major topics.

Major areas of Public Content:

Note: We have grouped some of the questions together only for readers better understanding of the questions

  • What types of bags would be provided by DPW, and how would it work?
  • Community Center Related:
    • Who authorized the party at the Community Center?
    • What does essential service mean, is there a list of services that the Community Center provides?
    • Is a Baby Shower Considered essential services?
    • Should it have been held elsewhere (Home/Borough Hall)?
    • What is the cost of holding a private event at the community center?
    • Mayor provides statement accepting full responsibility for Community Center, during Public Comment
    • People are getting sick, and the community center has been opened to others, is the food safe?
    • Will the community center be cleaned before more residents gain food form the center?
    • Resident provided clarification on what happened during the event and discussed the sharing of a private picture
    • Councilmember Jennifer Johnson provided details on what occurred when she heard about the event
  • Did the $1,300 from the Flea Market last year go to the Community Center as advertised?
  • Councilmember Jennifer Johnson expressed concerns about muting of people speaking, as to if they are getting their full time
  • Question as to Marriage Licenses being essential services within Hopatcong?
  • Will the bill list be provided after the meeting?
  • Why cannot the entire packet be posted with the agenda?
  • Why were short-term rentals under a past Resolutions Section of the meeting?
  • Question as to if the Council is unified?
  • Explanation was given as to why the young person (Scout) was on the meeting

Ordinances:

Introduction: Ordinance 9-2020, Short Term Rentals {Passed}

Councilmember Jennifer Johnson was opposed to passing an Ordinance during a pandemic

The final hearing is tentatively scheduled for 05/20/2020

ORDINANCE ADOPTING AMENDMENTS TO CHAPTER 57, (AFFORDABLE HOUSING), ARTICLE II, (MUNICIPAL HOUSING LIAISON); CHAPTER 152, (HOTEL AND MOTEL OCCUPANCY TAX), SECTION 5, (DEFINITIONS)

CHAPTER 242, (ZONING), SECTION 5 (TERMS DEFINED), AND ARTICLE IV, (GENERAL REGULATIONS), ADOPTING SHORT-TERM RENTALS; AND ADOPTING CHAPTER 189, (SHORT TERM RENTALS) IN THE CODE OF THE BOROUGH OF HOPATCONG

Final Hearing: Ordinance 5-2020, Amendment of 242-63 {Passed}

Councilmember Jennifer Johnson abstained

Public Comment included a question on how the Council could vote on the ordinance without fully understanding what was changed. The answer provided is that it is a recommendation from the Land Use Board and Land Use Board Attorney.

AN ORDINANCE OF THE BOROUGH OF HOPATCONG, COUNTY OF SUSSEX, REPLACING SECTION 242-63 OF THE CODE OF THE BOROUGH OF HOPATCONG REGARDING RESTORATION OF STRUCTURES

Resolutions:

2020-77, Resolution awarding the River Styx Streetscape project to Zuccaro Inc. {Passed}

Councilmember Jennifer Johnson voted no

2020-78, Resolution providing a grace period for Water, Sewer and Property Taxes {Passed}

Mayor’s Comments:

  • Hopes that the solar project will start in the next week or two
  • The Governor’s office has indicated that the Crescent Cove Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) project with the DEP can proceed
  • There was a fuel oil spill in Crescent Cove, which has been contained
  • Letters will be going out to short-term rentals regarding the town’s new Airbnb Ordinance
  • Special thanks to several residents for making masks for the Borough Employees
  • Strength of community, read a statement from John McCain

The Council meeting ended as they went into executive session on a different Zoom meeting

 

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