By Terry Rogers
Over the past several months, City Council members have met to discuss updates to Milford City Charter, bringing some codes up-to-date, adjusting language and modernizing some of the codes. Eric Norenberg, City Manager, said that the charter is much like the City’s constitution, governing how the City operates, determining the number of elected officials, how Council is elected, defines departments and spells out the responsibilities of appointed officials. The charter also determines how taxes are collected and how the City handles recovering unpaid taxes or fees.
“The changes fell into two categories,” Mr. Norenberg said at a workshop held prior to the City Council meeting on Monday, March 13, 2017. “Some are simply housekeeping, corrections to language, correcting typos and making the code more consistent. The others were designed to modernize the code and make it better fit what is happening today.” During the workshop, City Solicitor, David Rutt, went through the charter, explaining what each change meant.
One of the biggest changes in the charter relates to how the City will collect unpaid taxes and fees. Mr. Rutt explained that the State permits two methods for collection of delinquent taxes. The current method used by the City can take up to two years with significant court costs. Mr. Rutt explained that the second option, a monition sale, could be completed in six months, reducing costs to the City and encouraging property owners to resolve delinquency more quickly.
“The current process allows a property owner up to one year after a judgment is obtained to redeem a property sold via the courts to resolve a delinquency,” Mr. Norenberg explained. “This creates much uncertainty for the buyer of that property. Because of this, we have not used this process recently. The proposed change to monition method of pursuing delinquent taxes is a faster process than the out-of-date process currently in the charter.”
In Delaware, a property owner has a certain period after a sheriff’s sale to get the home back, a process known as redeeming the property. By paying the overdue amount plus other costs permitted under the law, the property can be redeemed. Under the current method, the City must mail notices to delinquent tax payers and post notices, both on the property and other public places as well as publish notices in newspapers that the property will be sold for unpaid taxes or fees. Once the sale takes place, the property owner has one year from the date of the sale to redeem the property. The entire process can take up to two years before it is finalized.
Under the monition sale process, the City must notify the property owner of the balance owed. The notice will include language that clearly states that failure to pay within 30 days will result in steps being taken to sell the assessed property. Once the sale takes place, the property owner has only 60 days to redeem the property. Once the 60 days has passed, the new owner takes possession and the previous owner has no claim to the property. Mr. Rutt explained that the process can be used for more than just property taxes, such as fees for unpaid utilities or grass cut by the City to bring a property into compliance with building codes.
Another proposed change to the charter was related to the times for City Council elections. Currently, elections are held from 12 Noon until 8 PM. Under the changes, elections will be held from 10 AM until 6 PM. Elections will still be held on the fourth Saturday in the month of April.
Under the current code, the City must obtain bids for any project that will cost more than $30,000. Under the proposed changes, that limit will be raised to $50,000 which Mr. Rutt says is more in line with other municipalities.
The changes were presented to Council for their review and will be placed on the March 27 agenda. If City Council approves the changes at that meeting, they will go to the Delaware Assembly for approval.
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