Q&A: City Council Ward 3 Candidates

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by Terry Rogers

 

Owen Brooks
Brian Baer

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. Candidates Brian Baer and Owen Brooks 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? 

Baer:  I’d look to “in-fill” growth first by replacing abandoned homes like the City is currently doing in the Downtown Development District and next look at planned growth outside the downtown area. We’ll need both in order to handle expected growth.

Brooks: Milford is expected to experience growth over the next several years. It has been projected over the next 10 years much growth according to what has been approved already. We, Milford, have to police the new growth, provide fire services, monitor sidewalks/roads where deemed and also provide trash collection and electricity. It is going to be awesome tasks and needs monitoring by a strong Council and Mayor. Understand that since the year 2000, the population has doubled already.

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? 

Baer:  I love our downtown area and believe we should encourage more businesses to move downtown. I’d also like to see further beautification of our downtown district. I look forward to Third Thursday events in the future (post-COVID-19) to show off our downtown to visitors and new residents. The “River Town, Art Town, Home Town” theme does a nice job of summing up our downtown vibe.

Brooks:  I view more specialty shops like we have already to promote and attract people to visit our downtown as shopping centers already serve larger commercial sales. We need to promote art, collectibles and small retail shops along with salons and eateries. I view it as a fun and interesting place to visit.

Q:  How do you view the current local economy and how would you propose preserving and attracting quality jobs? 

Baer:  Our economy is decent, but it could be better. Adding an additional grocery store like Lidi, Trader Joe’s or Aldi would be nice. Hopefully, more tech jobs will follow as we fill out Bayhealth Sussex campus.

Brooks:  I feel the local economy is good with having small and large businesses such as Perdue, Bayhealth, Caulk, Sea Watch, Wal-Mart, KSI, Burris Logistics and the City of Milford providing employment with good salaries and benefits which supports our thriving city, and they are only going to grow with population.

Q:  Do you believe the current recreation needs of local families are being met and how can they be improved? 

Baer:  Recreational opportunities are decent in Milford for all the major sports. However, we could improve things by adding lights to our basketball courts along the Riverwalk and possibly to the Little League fields by Parks and Recreation if they want it. Where I used to live in California, our basketball and softball fields were very well utilized because we had lighting for night games.

Brooks:  I feel we have a strong Parks and Recreation Department to provide activities. We have bowling, ballparks, gyms, church organizations that always need more involvement of the citizens and we have a movie theater in the works. There are several quality restaurants to be enjoyed.

Q: How available is quality and affordable housing in Milford? Is there a need for more affordable housing? 

Baer:  Overall, I think we do well on housing in Milford. My concern is with the current rating of our schools for perspective new resident. According to Zillow/GreatSchools, out of a maximum of 10, our two elementary schools get a 5 or 6, our middle school gets a 4 and our high school gets a 6, which may be keeping people with children away from our city. We should understand how we can improve our ratings to make our city more attractive to people moving to Delaware. We want to make it easier for Bayhealth to attract people to work at their beautiful new Milford (Sussex) Campus and have those new Delaware residents live in Milford.

Brooks:  More housing has been approved and housing in our community runs in all ranges of prices with many nice developments available. There is something for everyone’s price range and of good construction.

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? 

Baer: Continue sidewalk improvements and add new sidewalks so we have a contiguous sidewalk on at least one side of the street in the greater downtown area. While walking with our black lab around the 3rd ward, I’ve also noticed some fences need to be repaired as well as some trees needing pruning. I’ve also noticed some seriously dilapidated properties that do not look safe to live in.

Brooks:  As stated above, quality housing and affordability has to have strong code enforcement to ensure that quality is maintained, i.e. grass mowing, junk cars untagged in yards, etc. and code enforcers must have the strong backing of the Mayor Council and City Manager.

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? 

Baer:  I think we need to connect the various segments of the Riverwalk together. It would be great to be able to walk from Goat Island or the Dog Park all the way to God’s Way Thrift Store. We do need to do a better job at keeping the Mispillion River clean. Maybe Parks and Rec can start a volunteer group to help with this? I’d also like to see the City make some repairs to the bricks of the Riverwalk and clean up the goose poop on a more frequent schedule.

Brooks:  I think the Riverwalk is beautiful, the walking trails are great for serenity of being alone or educational for viewing the wildlife with family or friends. Wildlife must be preserved. We have a boating ramp on Front Street and further down a park with a beautiful bridge that is great for strolls.

Q:  Recently, City Council voted to go to referendum for an $18.4 million police station rather than take $3 million from electric reserves. 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? 

Baer:  No, not the current plan which will not be part of our June election. The referendum has been postponed indefinitely. I do support improvements to our police facilities, but I think we can do it for less money.

Brooks:  I fully and wholeheartedly support a new police facility. It has been needed for MANY years and the growth of the City even more so. It is needed for the community safety, the officers’ safety and for certification. There are so many reasons why I feel borrowing the full amount was the right decision as we, the City, need money in reserves. For example, in the 90s ice storm with trees down, electrical wires and poles down, we had millions in dollars to pay up front to get it up and running and again, and we were one of the first cities to do so and then were able to reimburse the government. Also from our reserve, we paid for a new substation later which was vital to our community.

Q:  Do you feel City leaders have responded adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic? Are there things you would have done differently?

Baer:  I think our leaders have done a good job for our citizens during the pandemic. I was happy to see the testing site in the Gigante/DHSS Shopping Center. More testing allows our city, county and state officials to make better decisions on opening our economy again. I would encourage the City to continue working with Bayhealth to offer free testing for our residents until our state health officials believe we have done enough testing.

Brooks:  City Hall has been closed except to essential employees. The Mayor, City Manager and Governor made these decisions and kept in daily contact as to what was being done in the City to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, Council was not involved in any of it to my knowledge. The Governor took care of what was to be done through the Mayor and City Manager. All Council meetings were held virtually through our home computers. As far as would I have done things differently, I am not going to second guess people who were involved in making decisions and were knowledgeable such as the Governor who knew the whole picture and kept in touch with the above.

Only voters who live in Ward 3 and have registered to vote with the City of Milford, are eligible to vote for either Baer or Brooks. 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.