by Terry Rogers
On Saturday, June 13, 2020, from 10 AM to 6 PM, Milford residents will head to the Public Works Office at 180 Vickers Drive in Milford to vote for candidates running for City Council in Wards 1, 2 and 3. Councilwoman Katrina Wilson in Ward 4 and Mayor Archie Campbell are unopposed in the upcoming election. The Ward 2 candidates will take the seat currently held by Councilwoman Lisa Peel who chose not to run for reelection. Candidates Joe Wiley and Andy Fulton answered questions regarding the City in order to provide voters with information about their platform as a Councilperson. Their answers are provided below.
Q: Milford is expected to experience growth over the next few years. What do you believe that growth should look like and what role should the City take?
Fulton: Growth is something that must be nurtured and controlled in order to keep it from becoming a nuisance of overcrowding, traffic delays and school overcrowding. The future of Milford should balance the needs of the historic value and the continued need for housing, the use of green space and the Mispillion River with the recreational attraction they can provide. The new Bayhealth Sussex Campus and Nationwide’s appropriation of the old hospital facilities are shining jewels in our recent growth, but we cannot ignore the needs of smaller businesses as well. The 2018 Comprehensive Plan, which I aided in developing on Planning Commission, should be followed to enable a well thought out and respectful growth pattern. This will enable the City to continue with sidewalk plans, bike path plans, water and sewer needs as well as the electrical needs of the community.
The growth that is heading our way is being driven largely by the new hospital and Nationwide’s purchase of the former hospital location. The new jobs from these two institutions along with people retiring to Delaware are driving the housing market and creating a demand for new homes and apartments. There is currently over 5 thousand new homes planned, mostly in the 1st and 2 nd wards. It is important that code enforcement stay closely involved to ensure the homes are well built and the developers complete all amenities that were approved with these subdivisions. In time we will be able to attract more business and commercial investment in the business community but that has been slow coming. From a planning perspective there are things that could be done to attract more new businesses. I believe Milford would benefit from having a full time Economic Development Director, to help guide new businesses and especially small businesses through the process.
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?
Fulton: The Downtown Master Plan was developed and has state funds associated with its implementation. Talking to one of our long-term residents, he described the 1946 downtown area s one of entertainment and socialization, as well as shopping. I would hope the future of the downtown area is one that will provide affordable places to live, recreational services to all age groups and businesses that can cater to a variety of ages. I would also like to say that this area is actually 170 acres of land in our central business district. I hope to have this area once again be the heartbeat of our community so that future generations can enjoy the fond memories of our city as described to me while meeting Ward 2 residents.
Wiley: The downtown is special to me because I grew up working in my father’s downtown business when I was in my teens and early 20s. He ran Wiley Fuel and Appliances until the fire in 2003 and, after the rebuild, that became Georgia House Restaurant. The Downtown Master Plan is a great conceptual plan showing what could be with the proper guidance. It is my belief that no town or City can truly be successful if it neglects its downtown. The downtown is the center and core of any successful town and we are fortunate it was selected by the state, to be part of the Downtown Development district program. This program has already contributed to the renovations of several downtown properties and added many new affordable homes in the District. We are also blessed to have the Mispillion River running through downtown. The Riverwalk runs along the Mispillion on one side or the other but there is still room for improvement.
Q: How do you view the current local economy and how would you propose preserving and attracting quality jobs?
Fulton: The current economy is improving but the need for jobs of adequate pay to support families is forever increasing. The new hospital and Nationwide facilities will aid in this but that cannot be the stopping point. I see a growth need in the service and recreation businesses to support the larger growth businesses. I am hopeful for the start up of small businesses that are occurring within our community as the opportunity for success continues to grow. In order to preserve the jobs and to continue to attract families we as a community will need to maintain and improve property values, provide recreational activities to all age groups, have service industries to provide dining and after-hours activities. An item often not discussed in attracting businesses and professionals is the need for a vibrant school system to support the families moving to our community. I’d like to see the City work with the Milford School Board to assist our public schools in reducing the overcrowding.
Wiley: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the local economy was doing well and most businesses were looking for employees. Nationally, the economy is currently in turmoil and we will have to wait and see how that effects the local economy as time goes on. Let’s all trust and pray that things resolve shortly and that the pandemic passes quickly and we all remain safe.
I think the most important thing that can drive new jobs in Milford has already happened. When BayHealth decided to build the new hospital, that was a major game changer for jobs. As that area builds out, the city needs to continue to support all the new services that will develop in that area, which will create new jobs. We can accomplish this by being more business friendly and if you go back to the 1st question, have a full time Economic Development Director, to help attract and guide businesses through the process of locating here.
Q: Do you believe the current recreation needs of local families are being met and how can they be improved?
Fulton: The short answer is partially. Presently, the Senior Center and local church activities provide wonderful senior programs and the Milford Public Library and recreational facilities provide wonderful pre-school environments. The problem truly lies with recreational activities for the school-age children and through 12th grade. Opportunities do exist on a limited scale, but all have limitations such as a vehicle is needed to go the Milford Boys and Girls Club as no sidewalks or crossing areas exist in the locality. Organized dance, football, baseball and other sporting type events exist, but not all children are interested in these activities. I believe the Parks and Recreation committee needs to formulate a working group with the Milford Central Academy and Milford Senior High School class leadership to start the planning process to attract through incentives or partnerships, the recreational activities this group of children need and want. This will also help attract new families and retain the families we already have living here. To that end, I became a charter member of the Milford Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee as the Chairman and we have listened to members of our community and developed a fact-finding poll for the teenagers of our community, seeking their input into meeting their needs.
This is a complex question, from the City’s side, the Milford Parks and Rec does a great job of having activities for Milford’s youth and is a well run department. The Boys and Girls Club has a lot of activities and a nice pool and is well run too. I think where we fall short is on the business side, like businesses that offer activities to children. When the Skating Rink closed in downtown Milford that was a huge loss for the kids and after school programs. As Milford grows, the demand for entertainment services is going to grow. When the new movie theatre opens, that will provide some relief but there will still be a need for new services.
Q: How available is quality and affordable housing in Milford? Is there a need for more affordable housing?
Fulton: Affordable housing is available, but it needs to increase and some of the rentals that do exist need to be made more desirable. The code enforcement of rental properties is just as important as owner occupied. Everyone deserves a place to live that is affordable to our means and meets the needs of the community. One of the requirements of the Downtown District Plan funded by the state is to help build a stable community of long-term residents by improving housing opportunities for all. The need for an increase in affordable housing as the City grows is paramount.
Wiley: Quality housing is available, but in high demand. There is a lot of quality townhouses and apartments and single-family homes planned and being built in Brookstone, Milford Ponds, Walnut Village and other developments. Affordable housing is another question. There is not enough affordable housing in Milford.
Q: Code enforcement is a problem in many cities today. Milford has developed a process to address code enforcement which seems to be having a positive effect. How would you like to see code enforcement in the City improved further and what areas do you see needing better enforcement?
Fulton: The City has continued to fund the requirement for code enforcement. I would like to see reports of non-compliance be reviewed within 72 hours of advisement and feedback given to the reporting party. I would like to see rules in place that inhibited owners of non-compliant code facilities be limited on further expanding an empire of distressed areas until what they own is repaired. Distressed property not meeting code is like a disease, and if left unchecked, will drive our future growth away. Owner and renter occupied properties should be kept to the same standards.
The results of the rental inspection program has been good for the community and has yielded positive results for us all. Milford has done a great job of getting through the first 2 years of initial inspections and It has been good to see properties improved and has made the town look more attractive.
I think one thing Milford could do to make code enforcement better would be to realize that it takes all the properties being maintained to create a great community. Now that they have inspected almost all the rentals in Milford some of the other code issues you may see are from properties that are not rentals. The City needs to continue working with those owners and see what they can do to resolve those issues also. There are services available through Community Development that the City can direct low income homeowners to, to help with repairs and the Downtown Development District program can also help with older homes in that district.
The most important thing to remember with code enforcement is that the City has to stay on it.
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?
Fulton: The 2018 Comprehensive Plan recognized the need for controlled and limited growth along the Mispillion River so as to maintain its natural habitat and beauty. The City currently promotes the river both historically for Milford and as a safe environment for festivals and shows that crisscross the river as well as providing areas for dining. I would also like to see partnerships with DNREC and other agencies that can promote a safe and environmentally friendly use of the river to be used as a recreational hub. The City grew from the river and the future is the river.
Wiley: Milford has done a good job promoting the river with downtown festivals such as the Bug and Bud Festival, the Freedom Festival and securing easements to build the Riverwalk from Goat Island to Silver Lake. It would be nice if the city could accrue some of the missing areas like the Old Vineyard Shipyard. This would complement the Riverwalk. However, it should only be secured with funding through grants or state funding. There is a lot of river shoreline from the drawbridge going out towards Route 1. The city should encourage protection along the river as this property develops. This would need to be accomplished through planning and zoning regulations.
Q: City Council voted to go to referendum for an $18.4 million police station rather than take $3 million from electric reserves in April. Although this vote has been postponed indefinitely, it will more than likely take place in the near future. This could raise property taxes by $210 per year. Do you support the construction of the new facility? Do you feel borrowing the full amount would be the right decision?
Fulton: The City passed this decision to go to referendum without pulling from reserves during a time fo economic boom for our city and state. The cost of borrowing the money was low and the need for an emergency fund is always needed. I applaud the efforts of City council in this respect as the need for new public safety facilities to meet the City’s growing demand increases. In the future, based upon the latest changes in the economy, this pathway has already proven correct. No one likes an increase in property taxes, but no one wants to have a city mired in crime either. In the wake of the pandemic that has starved the economic and health of our fair locality it may seem as excessive but the need for public safety to meet future demands does not go away, but this crisis only highlighted the limitations of our antiquated facilities.
Wiley: I think Milford Police Department does a great job and believe the community supports and appreciates the job they do. Chief Brown made a good case at the public meetings explaining the department has outgrown the current building and the building has some health and public safety concerns and I believe our police should have a healthy and safe building to work from. $18.4 million is a lot of money for a town the size of Milford however the businessman in me, tells me, it will only become more expensive to build as time goes on. Borrowing for the City is at a historical low, (2.4%) and for that reason I believe borrowing the full amount for the new police station is the right choice. Given the current trends, we will not likely see rates this low again and it will cost about 4 to 5% more for each year it is deferred.
The City recently decided to remove the referendum from the ballot, and I think that was the right choice, given the current economic environment. I do believe we need a new police station, however, I think the time and cost needs to be revisited at the right time. I have talked to many Milfordians about the new police station and have found that people’s positions varies greatly. If elected, i will support whatever the voters of Milford decide.
My position on the excess $3 million in electric revenue is that the money should be refunded and rates adjusted since it represents more income than the rate structure it was designed to produce.
Q: Do you feel City leaders have responded adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic? Are there things you would have done differently?
Fulton: I feel the City leaders did a fine job dealing with a new and dangerous situation that was met with many firsts in the City’s history. The City was extremely proactive in identifying essential employees as well as making sure that utilities would not be shut off from people economically impacted by the hardships caused by the pandemic. The City could have avoided the threat of fines for gatherings over ten people but instead could have published these localities as dangerous health risk areas. I am proud of our City’s response to this crisis and as a practicing paramedic, I applaud their efforts to keep us safe. The reopening of our City businesses will be the next challenge we face but we will face this together and, once again, be a growing economy.
Wiley: Yes, I feel the City leaders have responded correctly by closing the City offices to walk in traffic to protect city employees and the public and following the Governor’s direction.
Only voters who live in Ward 2 and have registered to vote with the City of Milford, are eligible to vote for either Fulton or Wiley. Registration to vote in state or federal elections does not qualify residents to vote in City elections. If residents are unable to vote at the polls on Saturday, June 13, 2020 or you wish to abide by the CDC & DPH guidelines for exercising self-quarantine and/or social distancing to avoid potential exposure to and community spread of Covid-19, they are encouraged to call the City Clerk’s Office for assistance with an absentee ballot. If residents have any questions regarding voter registration or the election, they are encouraged to call the City Clerk’s Office at (302) 422-1111 Ext 1300 or 1303.