Petition to stop Camp Sussex acquisition hits Vernon

Councilman calls drive to stop purchase of property 'premature'


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VERNON — Several members of the Vernon Taxpayer's Association are circulating a petition to establish an ordinance that would put any expenditure of open space money on the ballot for township voters to decide.

VTA President and former mayor Sally Rinker said the petition is in response to the Township Council authorizing Mayor Vic Marotta to negotiate with TFI Jersey Holdings, the owner of the abandoned Camp Sussex property, to negotiate a sale price for the 88-acre parcel township officials hope to transform into a park for passive recreation.

"We decided we were not going to be able to watch an event unfold in a timely, logical and sensible manner," Rinker said. "They are going ahead at lightning speed with it."

Rinker said the initiative petition is asking two things. The first is not to use the open space funds — Marotta says there is close to $1 million in the account — for the purchase of Camp Sussex, and the second is asking that all open space and farmland preservation funds be decided by referendum in the general election.

"The open space fund is taxpayer money," Rinker said. "There was a special tax for special purposes and we don't feel this is a logical way to blow through the entire fund."

At previous meetings, Marotta has estimated the acquisition of Camp Sussex would take about half the remaining open space funds.

Township Council President Brian Lynch said the petition drive is premature.

"The council has given direction to the mayor to enter into negotiations and come back with the information and the price needed to move forward," Lynch said. "The Council has not voted on purchasing Camp Sussex. We don't have enough information yet to make a determination. To make a petition against something that isn't there yet is confusing."

Rinker said the petitioners need 10 percent of the voters who cast a ballot during the last legislative election — 2013 — to put their proposition on the November ballot. According to county figures, 6,498 voters were cast in the 2013 general election in Vernon, requiring 650 votes. If the petitioners gather 15 percent — 974 — signatures, then the question could go to a special election. Rinker said the group is looking to get it on the November ballot and is seeking a minimum of 10 percent and maximum of 15.

The goal is to submit the petition before the purchase is approved, which Lynch said won't happen for at least a few months.

Lynch said Camp Sussex was in the open space plan going back to at least 2010 and said its confusing because Rinker, then township mayor, signed an addendum on Jan. 14, 2010, with Camp Sussex on the list.

“I don’t understand how she could be against it now and not being against it to begin with,” Lynch said.

Rinker said a land conservancy was hired by the town and it put together a list of properties of potential interest to be purchased with the funds. The list is then signed off on by the mayor on behalf of the Township Council under the old form of government. Camp Sussex, she said, was merely one of the properties on the list.

“It doesn’t mean Sally Rinker was in support of anything,” she said.

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