City Council Approves Balanced Budget

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c1By Terry Rogers

On Monday, June 13, Milford City Council approved a balanced budget of $42.6 million that included repairs to Airport Road, a second code enforcement officer and partial funding for a floating kayak dock on the Mispillion River. A proposed $100,000 fund to repair sidewalks in the city was eliminated from the budget at Finance Committee meetings held on June 7 and 8.

According to City Finance Manager, Jeff Portmann, rental fees were raised several years ago in order to hire a new code enforcement officer. A code official was hired at that time but left after several weeks and the position remained unfilled. Council made the decision at that time to use the additional rental fees to balance the budget. Last year, the finance committee made the decision to hire an additional code enforcement officer due to citizen complaints that building codes throughout the city were not being enforced.

“I want to commend the committee to use the funds raised years ago to hire an additional code enforcer,” Mayor Bryan Shupe said after the budget was approved. “I think this will be a huge benefit to the city. We had some good discussions on the future of the city at the budget hearings and I am pleased at the budget we have put together.”

Initially, $100,000 was added to the budget to be used for sidewalk repairs throughout Milford. Mr. Portman said that the goal was to target certain areas in the city where sidewalks had fallen into disrepair in an effort to create a more walkable town. Mayor Shupe told the committee that it was currently the responsibility of property owners to repair any sidewalk damage, so the initial funds would be used to create a program that would allow property owners to take advantage of cost savings that could be made available if the city arranged for the repairs in bulk.

“I was contacted by David Burton who was very fired up about even discussing repairs to sidewalks,” said Councilman Jamie Burk. “I guess it came up when he was on council years ago and he got a lot of negative feedback about the City fixing sidewalks for some when others were required to fix their own. I personally think it would be great because I walk through this city all the time, but I am not here to represent myself. I am here to represent the constituents I serve.” Councilman Owen Brooks said that he had also been approached by Mr. Burton as well as a legislator who provided street repair funds to the City who was also against the City taking over sidewalk repairs.

City Manager, Eric Norenberg, said that it may be possible for the city to create a hybrid sidewalk program that would allow the city to arrange for repairs, but would require the property owner to repay the city over five or ten years with no interest. If that type of program was implemented, there would be administrative costs that would need to be covered. If the committee chose to leave the $100,000 in the fund, it could be used to cover those administrative costs. After considerable discussion, the Finance Committee voted two to one to remove the funding from the budget.

“I don’t see the harm in leaving the money there and looking into developing some kind of sidewalk assistance project,” Councilman Christopher Mergner said, who cast the dissenting vote as a member of the Finance Committee. “I say if we are encouraging a healthy lifestyle and a walkable downtown, we should try to help property owners in order to get sidewalks repaired or installed.”

Mr. Portmann reported that the estimate for repaving Airport Road was $2.46 million without adding sidewalks or bike lanes. If the City chose to add bike lanes and sidewalks, the cost would increase by $1.2 million. Mr. Norenberg said that the sidewalk and bike lane would be on one side of the road, but because the estimate was so high, the City was looking at the lower estimate that would include only paving the road.

“We have $1.3 million available from Municipal Street Aid and $35,872 from legislative funding,” Mr. Portmann said. “We have some other legislative funding that we need to lock down, but the bottom line is that we need $1.125 million to pave Airport Road. We can use reserves, short-term borrowing with no referendum or long-term bond funding that would require a referendum. There are three reserve funds we can use to transfer money for the project. By transferring $400,000 from each, we should be able to get the road paved.” Councilman Brooks asked if there was enough in those reserve accounts for the City to remain comfortable and Mr. Portmann told him transferring the money would not deplete the reserve funds to dangerous levels. Councilman Mergner asked if there was a temporary solution that could be used in the short-term. Mr. Portmann said that the project had been critical over the past two years and that the City was now past the “band-aid stage.”

Brad Dennehy, Director of Parks and Recreation, presented the committee with a proposal for a floating kayak dock that would be placed in the Mispillion River behind Arena’s. The dock would be large enough for a pontoon boat as well as kayaks, promoting more river-based activity through the city. The estimate for building the dock was $100,000 and Mr. Dennehy said that he had already secured $25,000 in grants, which covered the cost of permits, design and an Army Corps of Engineer study.

“That means I need another $75,000 for the dock,” Mr. Dennehy said. “In order to go after grants, I need some backing from the city. The grant funding agency wants to see that the city is serious and not just looking for handouts. I am pretty good at hustling money, so if you can give me $35,000 or $40,000, I’ll find the rest, either through donations or grants.”

Mayor Shupe pointed out that there were developers looking at building near the river. He suggested that the committee hold off on pledging funds for the dock until more information was available about developments along the city. Councilman Mergner pointed out that if the city waited, it was possible a developer would be willing to install the dock as part of their project. Councilman Morrow felt that the city should provide funding in order for Mr. Dennehy to seek grants and donations now. The Finance Committee voted unanimously to approve $30,000 toward the building of the kayak dock.

After the budget was approved by council, there was a request from Councilman Brooks that a presentation be made to council after the annual audit. He said that many years ago, the auditors would present a report to council explaining any changes they recommended. Mr. Norenberg said that he felt that could be arranged without any problem.