by Terry Rogers
On Tuesday, April 2, the Milford Middle School Committee, led by Bill Strickland, voted to recommend to Milford School District Board of Education to seek a Certificate of Necessity to renovate the former Milford Middle School building on Lakeview Avenue into a Grade 5-6 school that could house 1,000 students.
“The essential purpose of this committee was to evaluate the Milford Middle School building and grounds and make recommendations regarding future use relative to the educational needs of the district and overall benefit of the community,” Strickland said. “I would like to thank the community for a job well done. I feel good about the work we have done here and am very pleased at the public input regarding this property.”
A feasibility study of the former school found that the property was best suited for an elementary or middle school. TetraTech advised that the older section of the school, which was built in 1929, was in much better shape than the newer wings added over the years. They recommended tearing down the newer wings and rebuilding the sections in a much more cohesive, better-flowing format that would allow for between 900 and 1,000 students.
Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent of Milford School District, explained that after staff reviewed current school capacities and enrollments, they felt the building should be configured for grades 5 and 6. This would reduce current overcrowding in the three elementary schools by removing fifth grade and reduce overcrowding at the Milford Central Academy by removing sixth grade. This would also free up space at MCA for high school programs that the district had not been able to implement due to space constraints.
“We also heard from the public that there was a need for some adult education,” Dr. Dickerson said. “The building would be available for recreational space and possible classroom space in the evenings for educational and workforce development programs.”
The cost to renovate the building for a 1,000 student school is estimated to be $53,957,430. The state would pay $39,928,498, 76 percent, of the cost while Milford’s local share would be $14,028,932, 24 percent. The next step in the process is to obtain a Certificate of Necessity from the State of Delaware. Once that is issued, the district would be able to provide an estimate of how much of a tax increase would be necessary to cover the local cost of the construction.
“I want to point out that we have two bonds expiring soon, one in 2021 and one in 2023,” Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer of Milford School District, said. “That means those two bonds will no longer appear on tax bills.” When asked if a tax increase for this project would be absorbed by the ending bond bills, Croce explained that it may be absorbed partially, but may not be completely covered by the ending bills.
Spyro Stamat pointed out that Milford already has the highest school tax in Sussex County. Croce explained that although Milford does have the highest rate in the county, the district has much lower property values than surrounding districts like Cape Henlopen and Indian River. For every penny collected in Cape Henlopen, the district brings in $120,000. In Milford, that same penny only brings in $40,000. There were also concerns that renters may vote for the referendum but they are not required to pay property tax.
“I am a new landlord,” Lang Redden, a member of the committee said. “I just renovated a building and am renting it. If my property taxes rise on that building, I will increase my rent to cover the additional expense, which means my renters are paying the tax. I have spoken to many landlords in town and they all follow that same business model. So it is incorrect to say that renters do not pay property tax.”
Jason James advised the committee to provide as much information as possible to the public as perception is powerful. He suggested that they provide people with exactly how much the tax impact will be as soon as possible because taxpayers are not going to be happy if they get another sticker shock like they did with the last referendum.
“We have already heard from the experts that if we wait, it will just get more expensive,” Cliff Coverdale said. “No one wants to have their taxes go up, me included. But our schools are overcrowded and waiting just makes it more expensive. We can either give this property away, because if we sell it, the state is going to take three-quarters of what we get or we can give it to our children and great-grandchildren.”
The recommendation will be presented at the May meeting of the Milford School District Board of Education.