by Terry Rogers
On Tuesday, April 10, the Sussex County Chapter of the NAACP, in partnership with the Milford Chronicle, sponsored a debate between Arthur Campbell and Todd Culotta, candidates for Milford’s Mayoral seat. The seat came open when Mayor Bryan Shupe chose to step down at the end of his term in order to run for the State House of Representatives. David Sauls of the NAACP welcomed people to the debate and Chronicle publisher, Daryl La Prade, mediated the discussion.
Economic development, code enforcement and the City budget were hot topics during the debate, both between the candidates and members of the audience who were permitted to ask questions after La Prade asked each candidate to respond to prepared questions. Some of the questions also related to crime, transportation and recreation in the City. Although the first question asked of the candidates related to housing in the City, Culotta tied housing growth into economic development in the town.
“The overall economy has to improve itself to dictate the type of housing, luxury apartments, condos and high-density houses that we would like to see,” Culotta said. “As Mayor, I would really work on bringing that business here to improve jobs, to improve overall housing. Housing is reflective of the overall economy and the kind of jobs that are available.” Campbell pointed out that economic development was on the rise in Milford with Bayhealth, Nemours and Nationwide investing in the town. He also reminded those in attendance of the Downtown Development Designation which provides businesses with a 20 percent grant for opening or expanding a business in the downtown area and credited Downtown Milford Inc. with helping to bring more businesses to the downtown area.
Campbell believes that businesses want to come to Milford and that even the addition of small businesses, like LifeCycle and Red Bandana, demonstrate how Milford’s economy is growing. In addition, larger companies are expanding in Milford.
“Sea Watch has put on a night shift,” Campbell said. “Perdue has purchased 70,000 square feet of space for organic chickens. If we think about Bayhealth and Nemours and Nationwide, they have invested millions, millions of dollars into our community. Plus, they are going to add 200 jobs for people here. So, we need to continue what we are doing. We need to help, support these larger companies that are coming in and, on an economic standpoint, which is going to be good for the City of Milford. In my eyes, I will definitely support a lot of those companies, In 40 years in the business and economic world, I think my qualifications are there.”
According to Culotta, economic development was the “single most important thing” the candidates were going to talk about in the debate. It is his opinion that economic development dictates everything the candidates were going to discuss.
“I do think that Milford is on the rise, there is no question there,” Culotta said. “I think the new hospital is a great addition. That is a $350 million investment and we can see a whole medical campus out there with schools, research development, things like that. We’re talking over a billion dollars of investment in the next few years and I think that is very possible. And that is billion with a ‘B.’ Milford is really ripe for growth like we have never seen before, not in my lifetime anyway.” Culotta believes that not only healthcare will grow the economy in Milford, but that manufacturing will be beneficial to economic development. He also believes that as more retirees come to the area, there will be a need to provide them the services they want and need, like restaurants, financial services and more.
The finances of the City were also discussed by the two candidates. La Prade asked how the candidates would manage increasing demand for municipal services and infrastructure as Milford continued to grow.
“I hate to be the bringer of bad news, we were having a council meeting and I asked a question,” Campbell said. “The question was what did we have in delinquent taxes. And, I was in shock that we have people in Milford that have not paid taxes in 10 to 15 years. We’re talking $505,000. I cannot understand that people have not paid taxes in 10 to 15 years. To me, that is unbelievable.”
Culotta believes that investment in the community is the best way to bring infrastructure and municipal needs to meet the demands of a growing town.
“The average income in Milford is around $15,000 a year, that’s not very much,” Culotta said. “That is $10,000 less than the national average. So, again, I don’t like taxes. I don’t think anybody does. I think we all know it is a necessary evil, but I don’t want that to be our first choice for increasing revenue to the city. I think outside investment, whether it is big companies, small companies, whatever that might be, that is going to allow us to finance the city environment. Things like police officers, improving roads, improving sidewalks. All of those things can be solved with big companies coming in because they require infrastructure and they are willing to step up and make it available by partnering with the City.”
One area that Culotta and Campbell agree is finding more money in the City budget to hire more police officers. Campbell believes that the City needs to hire at least four additional police officers to meet the demands of a growing population.
When the audience was permitted to ask questions, most of those who spoke to the candidates wanted more information on how they would handle code enforcement in the town. Many related stories of reporting properties in their neighborhood multiple times for obvious code violations, yet little was done by the City to make any improvements. During the initial questioning, Campbell also discussed code enforcement, relaying a story from a friend about potential employees for Bayhealth who were taken on a tour of the City by a local realtor.
“Apparently, she was given five or six individuals to show around the City of Milford, what they like, what they don’t like,” Campbell said. “After they did the tour for, I think it was three or four days, they came back and said that it needs to be cleaned up. It’s dirty. Houses are falling apart. And, out of those six executives that came down, they went to Magnolia, they went to Milton, they went to Lewes, saying there was no way they were coming to Milford. I think that hurts us. We have one full-time code enforcement person for Milford for 10,000 people. One. We are in the process of hiring another one. I suggested we go outside and get a third party which we already have and hired.”
Several members of the audience claimed that the buildings in town that needed attention were predominantly rental properties. Culotta pointed out that there was no question that there were many properties in Milford that needed improvement, but he did not believe that pointing fingers at landlords was the answer.
“Some landlords could do a better job of it,” Culotta said. “But, an ordinance to inspect every rental in Milford is a ridiculous cost that we do not need to assume. There are many landlords here who take very good care of their properties. They pay all these fees in order to do that. I think the code enforcement folks should do what they need to do. In February, we only had three code enforcement things that they had to deal with, none of which got closed out. So, I think code enforcement could take a more proactive approach with the laws that are already on the books to help homeowners and property owners make sure their rentals are fit for people to live in.”
As a member of Council, Campbell stated that he gets numerous phone calls about properties, especially rentals, that were in poor condition. He had received reports of properties rented that had no running water and no heat. One rental property had a hole in the kitchen where someone could have fallen through to the foundation. One home with eight bedrooms had padlocks on each bedroom door as well as a hot plate or microwave in each room, something Campbell found extremely dangerous. One audience member asked if there was a plan to add an inspection process for owner-owned properties as well since not all the code violations were related to rental properties.
“Therein lies the rub,” Culotta said. “How do you inspect just what is owned by landlords as opposed to homeowners. Nobody is going to come into my home and inspect just because they have an ordinance to do that. I own it. I can tell you whether you can come into my home or not. So, why are we putting it on the landlords and saying all landlords are bad when only a few are. And the few that are, the current code enforcement can address that.”
Milford’s elections will be held on Saturday, April 28 from 10 AM until 6 PM at City Hall at 201 S Walnut Street. In order to vote, citizens must be registered to vote with the City of Milford. Registration with the state election commission does not qualify them to vote.
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