by Terry Rogers
On Tuesday, April 10, the Sussex County Chapter of the NAACP, in partnership with the Milford Chronicle, sponsored a debate between Michael Boyle and Cindy Scofield, candidates for open seat for Ward 1 on Milford’s City Council. The seat came open when Councilman Archie Campbell stepped down to run for Mayor. David Sauls of the NAACP welcomed people to the debate and Chronicle publisher, Daryl La Prade, mediated the discussion.
La Prade asked each candidate seven questions related to housing, the City budget, transportation, crime, recreation, economic development and infrastructure needs. After each question was answered, the audience was provided an opportunity to ask specific questions. Code enforcement seemed to be the biggest issue for residents while the candidates felt economic development and the budget were critical to the success of Milford. Both candidates felt that some of the housing issues facing Milford were related to economic development.
“Eventually, we’re going to have 6,000 homes,” Scofield said. “I was reading in, I think it was the Comprehensive Plan, that there are going to be all different types of homes. That’s going to bring economic growth to the City, but we have to bring jobs to the City unless people are coming here with a job already.”
Boyle said that although housing in the City needed to improve, economic development would drive the housing market. He pointed out that approximately 45 percent of the housing units in Milford were rentals. Between 40 and 50 percent of single-family homes were considered low income, Boyle explained.
“That impacts the City because our tax base is low, so its going to hold us back a little,” Boyle said. “Obviously, we need to build the economy before we can bring in the kind of housing that is going to bring us a different income level in the town to give us the tax base to work with.”
While campaigning in Ward 1, Scofield discovered that there was a majority of constituents in her ward who were afraid of growth, claiming that Milford was not the city and that they did not want it to grow. “I think they picture these skyrises,” Scofield said. “I don’t want Milford to grow that way either, but I do think that if we can build a complement of small, medium and large businesses, I think that would be great. I don’t want Milford to lose the charm that it has. The hospital, that’s great. There’s going to be 300 people getting jobs right there and the other large businesses. I still want to keep the charm, but economically we have to grow.”
Boyle believes that jobs are critical to the growth of Milford. He would like to see businesses come to Milford that would provide young families the opportunity to grow and remain in the area.
“The hard part is every town in Southern Delaware is trying to do the same thing,” Boyle said. “The City is not just sitting back and letting this happen. There are strategic and comprehensive plans that address this. The City is actively engaging in some forward thinking about how to go about doing this. One of the things we have in this part of the state is we are in a very strong position with our location in the state and our access to transportation and land is abundant. Our taxes are relatively low and that’s another incentive.” One thing that Boyle wants to do as a Councilman is to be sure that the City takes a balanced, managed approach to bringing new businesses to Milford. He sees Ward 1 being the area where growth will happen the most and he wants to be sure that the processes are clear, forward-thinking is applied and that all processes are fair and equitable, growth will be managed more easily.
With Milford’s growth comes budgetary issues as a larger population and more businesses means a need for more municipal services as well as infrastructure. Boyle believes that attracting companies that will partner with the City could not only help reduce municipal costs, but also improve the economic climate in Milford.
“We’re not going to get a Fortune 500 company to come in here and put a big manufacturing plant up,” Boyle said. “It isn’t going to happen for a lot of reasons, Part of the problem is where we are located, but we need some smaller to middle range companies to come in and maybe work very light industry. There will be ancillary services related to the hospital, medical, it could be a real boom down the road. I don’t want to raise taxes anymore than anyone else does, but we need to require developments to do the impact fees for the infrastructure expansion and the facilities we need to support them. It is a two-way street. We’ve got to work with the ones who come here, we need to encourage them, we need to see that they succeed, that if they don’t succeed, we don’t succeed.”
Scofield does not want to encourage growth and end up ‘behind the eight ball.’ “I really don’t want to take loans, I don’t want to start out that way,” Scofield said. “I think if we can get some federal help with things, or, hey, there’s some rich people out there, maybe Oprah will help. There has to be something that we can do, to not really have to take loans. Again, I don’t want to do taxes, but I know we need them. They are a necessary evil.” One area where Scofield believes a tax increase would be warranted is to hire additional police officers and to improve the current police station.
Boyle also feels that the police force, while doing an excellent job fighting crime in Milford, needs more officers and an improved building. He pointed out that Milford is an increasingly bilingual community, yet there are no bilingual police officers in the department.
The audience spoke, at length, on code enforcement in the City at the end of the debate, with many relating that they had reported code infractions numerous times with no result. They stated that the properties in question were often rentals and some of the landlords had been cited repeatedly for the same infraction. Scofield pointed out that homeowner’s associations provided neighborhoods with rules that kept yards, homes and neighborhoods clean. She was unsure why people did not keep their house clean or fix things that were broken, but when they did not comply, code enforcement should be used to require them to repair areas identified.
“I am going to take a little bit of a different approach to this,” Boyle said. “I believe the government’s role is to protect the safety, the health and the well-being of its citizens. When you get down to the City level, Milford is responsible for police and fire services, housing services, good business environments. In there has got to be, if we have ordinances to be followed and codes to enforce, you enforce them. In the military, there was an old saying that the commander gets what the commander inspects. You can’t just say only half of [landlords] don’t do a good job so we don’t need to worry about them. You need to worry about everybody. It keeps everyone honor. I am in favor of code enforcement. It will improve our everything.”
Some members of the audience expressed concerns that rental properties would now be subject to regular inspections under a City ordinance that had been on the books for some time but had not been enforced due to a lack of inspectors in the code enforcement department.
“We’ve overlooked one thing,” Boyle said. “I was on Planning Commission. The City Planner is developing a plan of scheduled, routine inspection. You can’t find the bad properties until you go and look at them. You can’t look at the outside of the house and make a judgement. It will be a set schedule and people will be going around. Once they have identified them, you can take a positive step to clean it up. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen in a month. It may take a year or two before the cycle is completed, but they are taking positive steps.”
Milford’s election will be held on Saturday, April 28 from 10 AM until 6 PM. In order to vote, citizens must be registered to vote with the City. Registration with the state election commission does not qualify them to vote. The deadline for registration was Thursday, March 29. Voting takes place at City Hall.
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