James Burk and John Bechtold are vying for an open seat in Ward 2 for Milford City Council. The election will be held on Saturday, April 22 from 12 Noon until 8 PM.
Q. With a projected $350 million budget shortfall in the state budget, how do you think this will effect the City of Milford budget? What areas do you feel could be affected and what ideas do you have to resolve these concerns?
A. Milford must be fiscally responsible, before we move forward ensuring our current residents needs are met. This means stabilizing and adjusting our budget before aggressive expansion. This will prepare us for the when and if our state funds are reduced, it will not have a crippling effect on our city. I am sure it will effect our budget and plans one way or another. It may mean scaling down major expenditures, adjusting our fund allocations or growth plans. If we are strategic and pace our ourselves , then we should be able to weather the shortfall. This can only be accomplished explore other income areas without raising city taxes or utility rates. We can not grow too rapidly to the point where our budget is depleted and our current needs and infrastructures fail our current residents. Several ideas may include a dining tax of 3%. (i.e. a $30.00 dinner check would incur a $1.00 tax for the city.) This could generate income all year long, especially during beach season when folks pass through to and from the Delaware and Maryland Beaches. Being more aggressive with our code enforcement. Making sure landlords, homeowners and businesses take responsibility for their properties. Strip malls, large retailers, and apartment complexes should be responsible for loose trash in parking lots, not enough or overflowing trash receptacles and dumpsters. This would accomplish responsibility, violations revenue and a win for the pollution of our river and ponds, and overall town beautification.
Q. Milford is expected to experience growth over the next several years. What do you believe that growth should look like and what role should the City play?
A. Housing developers also can put a strain on our budget by large housing developments bringing large amounts of new residents in a short period of time that our infrastructure and budget may not be prepared for. To ensure we can keep up with the growth a possible fee could be due to the city upon the completion of every new dwelling built. Using a number of $600.00 could be divided equally to our city to use where needed, our police department to keep up officer to citizen ratio, and our fire/emergency services. We simply must investigate revenue options to keep up with new growth while keeping burdens off current residents and businesses. Our seniors citizens, retirees, and working class population simply cannot be put in a position to where they cant maintain or lose their homes, or support their families.
Q. The City has developed a Downtown Master Plan and been selected as a Downtown Development District by the State of Delaware. How do you view downtown and its role in the future of Milford?
A. Milford had some great growth ideas, and future plans. But to be prepared for the for a bright future we must concentrate on basics first. By starting our focus on our current residents, businesses,roads, schools,roads and utilities. Only then can we be ready for new growth. I feel Milford can once again thrive. However, we must realize we will never be a vacation destination or large tourist town like our neighboring beach towns. We need to have our own appeal, drawing on hometown appeal, charm, history and individualism. We need to be careful not to become a town of strip malls, traffic headaches, and chain stores. We should attract small and unique businesses, specialty restaurants, and local cottage industries. Lets also keep our surrounding farmers in the loop and draw on our local industries and talents.
Q. How do you view the current local economy and how would you propose preserving and attracting quality jobs?
A. Milford prides itself in being a River Town, Art Town, Home Town. Our downtown must be the Keystone of our growth from a community and cultural perspective. Developing our downtown has to begin with supporting the merchants and shop owners currently here. The fact that Milford has been chosen as a Downtown Development District is a huge win for current and future property owners within the District boundaries. Most of the people that this would benefit, however, do not know how they could benefit from the program. We need to get the word out through the most effective channels. The proposed Downtown Redevelopment plan to revitalize downtown and the Riverwalk is an ambitious and exciting dream. But we have empty storefronts downtown. We need to focus on incubating business with our current inventory of real estate before we embark on a period of aggressive new growth. A downtown is not thriving until the entire downtown is vibrant and full.
Right now I feel our economy is weak. We need to focus on quality. The answer is not to build more strip malls with vacant storefronts. To attract quality jobs you have to create a quality city. No business large or small will want to come or remain in Milford unless we have a city with complete curb appeal. Our city has to be a place their employees want to live, not just drive in town to punch a clock. Live, work and play the Milford way. We must attract a large stable industry or distribution center that will provide stable jobs, a stable future, and be environmentally responsible to our city.
Q. Do you believe the current recreation needs are being met and how can they be improved?
A. On the recreation front we are doing well. Our river park tennis and basketball courts and our dog park are valuable and being enjoyed. I do feel we could use our ponds and rivers to our advantage for recreation. I received a Facebook comment/question about the Marshall pond. This citizen was asking about the rebuilding of the fishing pier that has deteriorated over time and not maintained. She stated it was once a highly used pier for families young and old to fish. We had had a skating center. It was not only a small business but dedicated many other things to our community. It provided recreation for all ages, a place for our seniors to walk during the cold winter months. That rink with its wooden floors was a piece of nostalgia. Our City and residents did not see the value in this. Our recreation facilities are only successful if we use enjoy and support them. When families, teens and seniors have a place they enjoy or like to frequent, the whole city prospers with lower crime, and community spirit. Sometimes we must overlook and sacrifice profit to reap long term benefits.
Q. How available is quality and affordable housing in Milford? Is there a need for more affordable housing?
A. The question of affordable housing is addressed in most cities and in many ways the term is relative. What is affordable to some is not the same as to others. Housing prices in Milford are on par with the average in most of Delaware except, of course, at the beaches. But this issue is closely tied to the issues of jobs, crime, curb appeal, and the overall economy. Milford has lovely neighborhoods and new construction is beginning to gain momentum again. There are many rental options from which tenants can choose.
Q. Code enforcement is a problem in may cities today. How would you address code enforcement in the City and what areas do you see as needing better enforcement?
A. Code enforcement is a problem. Unrealistic codes or too restrictive codes may be hard to enforce. Some codes have more validity then other “knit-picky ones”. Codes that preserve curb appeal charm or safety should be a priority. We are having issues keeping up with current code enforcement, either due to a lack of manpower, lack of interest or just too many codes. If we become too restrictive or too lax, we will drive residents, future residents, and businesses to our outskirts. Losing city interest, revenue, and revitalization. A recent drive through town yesterday revealed to me many issues that need to be addressed. Car tires, shopping carts, auto parts, overgrown fences and miscellaneous junk in front yards. This makes enforcement hard when it is so obvious that there are residents that just don’t take pride in Milford. If our current residents don’t take an active role, how can we expect our city employees? I have many friends and acquaintances that hold city jobs. When they learned I was running, they advised me luck but that they didn’t live within city limits. Maybe our current ,past and future enforcers reside elsewhere and only drive into Milford for a job. It must be a cooperative effort, putting personal issues, financial relationships, and acquaintance issues aside. Maybe we should hire a code enforcement staff hired from city residents. This would boost our city economy, as well as hiring an individual who has a dedication to our city.
How do you see Bayhealth’s new campus and the purchase of the Clarke Avenue campus by Nationwide affecting Milford over the next five years?
A. I await to see if the new Bayhealth is an improvement to our community. Usually our current ER has hours long waits, and/or no bed availability. This leaves patients waiting for rooms left in hallways or wherever a portable bed may be parked. We also have lost quality physicians and surgeons due to current hospital conditions and moving on to better cities and communities for them and their families. I hope Bayhealth has a growth plan in mind to be steps ahead of our growth or else we will be in the same situation, just with a new face. Nationwide is a great step because we need the facility and it keeps another building on our landscape from being vacant. It should bring jobs to Milford, hopefully hiring a percentage of Milford City residents. Our community plays a role in these issues. It relates back to my Milford curb appeal/clean up approach. We will not be able be able to attract and keep top providers, nurses etc., if our town does not have the appeal, charm, and infrastructure it needs to make them want to stay. A modern well kept town will help make it a place for them to want to work and raise their families , or start one. First appearances are most important no matter which road you use to enter our town. Otherwise they will chose,Milton, Lewes, or other places outside our city limits.
Q. The Planning Commission is currently working on the 2018 Comprehensive Plan. What are your feelings on how the plan should be updated, if at all?
A. In all honestly, I have not heard about the 2018 Comprehensive plan. I am sure I am not alone in this category, no opinion can I give. I will suggest that our city government should be consistently publishing updates in our hometown newspaper, The Chronicle. Many find the web site confusing and hard to navigate. If you do find it online you may need an interpreter. Lets make it easier to read, in general terms.
Q. The Mispillion River is a valuable asset to the City. What ways do you think the City can promote the river as an attraction, improve growth along the river but continue to promote conservation and protection of natural habitats along the river?
A. Include tie up areas for small craft boaters, possibly to have dinner, attend a festival or walk our propose new riverfront. A riverside pier with general store to purchase fishing and boating items. We could provide catch and release fishing contests for all age groups, gaining exposure an interest. This could extend to our surrounding ponds. Getting all ages involved on and around the river is good in many ways. Teaching our youth about the river, it’s natural importance and how to use and protect it. Citizen support of the Friday morning volunteer park and river clean up is important. Our high school has a horticulture and FFA department. Let’s get them involved for the caring for the parks and riverfront. Designing gardening items and ideas, and having a say in their town. Every citizens involvement regardless of age, or social status will contribute to its growth, conservation, prosperity, and beautification.
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