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. Ward 1 candidates Michael Boyle and Michael Spillane 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 several years. What do you believe that growth should look like and what role should the City play?
Boyle: Before we can realistically discuss growth in upcoming years, the City of Milford must address our economic recovery. The economic recovery of local Milford businesses is paramount. Especially the small businesses that have suffered significant losses from the COVID-19 outbreak. Recovery will take time and require our maximum energy for as long as needed. All else is secondary!
Even during a period of uncertainty, similar to an unknown impact that COVID-19 could have on our local economy, growth will continue even if at a slower rate. I believe that growth should be balanced, offering a range of affordable and quality housing units to attract residents of varying income levels, with an expanding industrial and commercial base to provide quality jobs, and expanded commercial services currently lacking in Milford.
I also believe that the City’s role is to facilitate an environment that supports a reinvigorate, balanced and sustainable growth of new businesses and the expansion of existing businesses. Vital to sustaining long term growth will be attracting new businesses to Milford that offer new jobs, thus expanding the tax base, enhances the quality of life for Milfordians while providing a level and quality of municipal services required for its residents and businesses necessary to support a vibrant local economy.
Spillane: The City of Milford should encourage growth at a pace which won’t financially push its present and future residents away. When a town advances, taxes will rise but if this advancement is at a reasonable pace it won’t put a sudden burden on our wallets. With 200 new homes projected for 2020 what does our city have to offer for employment of incoming residents. Perhaps a trade zone to attract corporations to settle in Milford. This could offset the taxes for the residents.
In the larger picture we have a huge responsibility to our citizens to provide guidance and security in the present crisis of COVID-19. We must cooperate with the federal and state governments to enforce the decisions made and be ready to help any member of our city who needs our help. When we have succeeded in overcoming COVID-19, we should be ready to move forward in a positive fashion and encourage our citizens to do the same
Q: The City develop 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?
Boyle: Milford’s Master Plan serves to preserve our area’s rich heritage and revitalization in the Downtown Development District (DDD). The Plan’s goal is to bring new life and purpose to its historic heart, help build a stable community of long-term residents by improving housing opportunities, strengthen neighborhoods, harness the attraction of a vibrant downtown, spur private capital investment in Milford’s business districts to stimulate job growth and improve the commercial vitality of such districts. Since its inception, Milford’s Downtown Master Plan has thus far realized:
- 62 total DDD projects (7 large and 55 small)
- $21,184,054 in committed investment by private developers and property owners
- $2,477,270 in committed State Grant Funds
- $240,679 in City fee waivers and tax abatement
Spillane: Downtown Milford is the historical center of Milford offering the Riverwalk for touring the area on foot, the farmers market and entertainment throughout the year. We need to advertise on a greater scale to pull in visitors from out of town. We should offer a variety of stores accommodating all age groups but still preserve a charming safe small town feeling. Along with the Riverwalk, adding fountains (children can run thru the water), benches beneath shade trees, bathrooms, vendors with ice cream and water/drinks.
Q: How do you view the current local economy and how would you propose preserving and attracting quality jobs?
Boyle: Again, the unknown short- and long-term impacts resulting from the State of Emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic aside, Milford’s economy is sound and had been expanding at a steady rate of 3.76% annually with local employment estimated at 4,800 jobs. The fundamental strength of Milford’s economy can still support the basis for recovery even if at a slower rate. However, recovery will take time and it will require the City to continue expending maximum energy for as long as necessary. Contrary to opinions expressed by some, Milford has been actively engaged in preserving and attracting new jobs, and must double down on its efforts to help rebuild the local economy.
As outlined in the City’s Comprehensive Plan, Milford has developed an extensive array of goals and objectives and programs like the Downtown Development Program, a City-wide Job Creation and Capital Investment Program, and participates in several state and county (Sussex and Kent Counties) business development programs. Also, the City has partnered with DelDOT to implement a Transportation Improvement District for the entire South East area to develop a comprehensive plan that identifies and anticipates necessary improvements in the highway infrastructure and to spur development by eliminating the need for individual developers or builders to conduct traffic impact studies thus shortening permitting times.
In addition to being a member of the City Council, and to promote economic development for Milford I also serve as: Chairperson of the Milford City Community and Economic Development Committee; Milford’s representative to the Kent Economic Partnership; a member of the Chamber of Commerce’s Joint Economic Task Force for Milford; and, represent the City at meetings of the Sussex County Association of Towns, and the Delaware League of Local Governments.
Spillane: Our local economy seems to be doing well. We are the home of Purdue, Cold Storage, SeaWatch International, First State Manufacturing, Dentsply Sirona and Burris Trucking, to name a few. Our City will work with these companies to preserve the infrastructure for expansion for their needs today and tomorrow by working with these companies to make it worthwhile for them to stay and expand within our city. We need an open-door concept welcoming new ideas and suggestions from our residents. After all, this is their city, and we are here to manage it for them.
Q: Do you believe current recreation needs of local families are being met and how can they be improved?
Boyle: I do not believe that Milford currently has enough recreational facilities (parks, bicycle and hiking paths, playing fields, etc.) to meet the needs of a growing city.
I believe the city needs to purchase large tracts of land for future parks to accommodate sports, areas for family and organization(s) outings, public concerts and events. Land is still available now and relatively affordable even if construction has to be deferred until a later time.
I would like to see The Riverwalk’s offerings expanded to support activities like hiking and boating and be extended to the Delaware Bay.
Spillane: With the current population of 53 percent (U.S. Census Bureau) being between 25 and 65 years old, Milford has become more of a family town rather than the retirement community of the past. Our incoming and past developments should offer playgrounds, biking and walking trails for their residents. On the Southeast side of Milford, we need a public recreational park. Perhaps if we had a partnership between the Nemours Alfred I. Dupont Childrens Hospital, Bayhealth and the City, we could develop a playground, recreational area near the walking trail presently around Bayhealth.
Q: How available is quality and affordable housing in Milford? Is there a need for more affordable housing?
Boyle: The overall quality of housing, particularly of older rental units has improved with the enactment of the City’s Residential Rental Inspection Program. Additionally, the implementation of programs like the Downtown Development District encourages infill development of vacant and underutilized properties have had good success in renovating rundown and abandoned housing into quality houses that have contributed to improve the look of neighborhoods.
There is a need for more affordable quality housing that is being met by a surge in new apartment construction with 1,477 units approved and proposed to be built in the next couple of years. The number of affordable housing units available, for first time home buyers and lower income households, is improving with the construction of proposed smaller single-family houses and townhomes.
Milford is also lacking in moderate to high end houses that will attract higher income earners to move to Milford and help improve and expand the City’s tax base.
Spillane: As of the end of 2018, Milford’s per capita income was $26,445. With this in mind, I definitely feel we need more affordable housing. We also need to offer classes to our residents, both present and new, on finding the resources they need. An example may be a single parent with three children may not know where or who to turn to for help and information. We could also offer a discount on utility bills if a family, as a whole, would volunteer a specific number of hours working with the city (Food Bank, Boys and Girls Club, Litter clean up, etc.)
Q: Code enforcement is a problem in many cities today. Milford has developed a new process to address code enforcement which seems to be having a positive impact. How would you like to see code enforcement in the City improved further and what areas do you see as needing better enforcement?
Boyle: The City’s Residential Rental Inspection Program ensures code compliance, protects the health, safety and welfare of residents, and prevents deterioration of the housing stock through proactive inspection and enforcement of City ordinances. During the two years that this program has been applied it has achieved success and met with approval from City residents. The visual transformation of individual properties has been dramatic and can be viewed on the City website at: http://www.cityofmilford.com/452/Code-Enforcement.
I would like the scope of the inspection program improved by expanding its scope to incorporate abandoned non-rental residential and commercial buildings that are a public nuisance, and pose a public health and safety risk to City residents.
Spillane: Code enforcement has improved over the years, I see many houses getting much needed upgrades and some torn down and rebuilt. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2014-2018, Milford had around 50 percent rental properties. With the city codes in place, the landlords are seeing the advantages of owner’s pride and how it pays off with renting and resale. With our new construction, all builders should be enforced to have the same standards across the board and should be held accountable if they don’t follow the codes. Also, the City should review Homeowners Agreements with all builders to be sure the codes are being met and they are fair to the homeowners.
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?
Boyle: I believe that the Vinyard Shipyard’s future must be settled before any plan can be advanced that incorporates new programs, associated with the shipyard, into any overall Riverwalk recreational development plan.
As part of a comprehensive plan I would like to see the Riverwalk developed for recreational use, and an entertainment venue, complete with supportive facilities, that the city could utilize and/or lease to organizations, in and outside Milford, seeking a place to hold events or festivals. This would produce income to pay for The Riverwalk’s maintenance and acquaint visitors to Milford and what the City has to offer.
Spillane: There are many ways to promote the Mispillion River. The town already invites volunteers to clean-up along the river. This should be done once every season. We could offer an internship to an environmental College Student to offer classes along the river. Using a different topic for each class. Topics like why keeping a natural buffer of growth along the banks helps our ecosystem, area birds that live along our river, their needs for housing, perhaps building bird houses and placing them along the river, teaching the importance of proper outdoor etiquette to keep our river clean, and water quality testing for all living creatures along and within the river and bird watching and photography.
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 potentially raise property taxes by $210 per year. Do you support the construction of the new facility? Do you feel borrowing the full amount was the right decision?
Boyle: As you know, the Borrowing Referendum for the proposed Police Station has been withdrawn to avoid any hardship of a potential tax increase during this uncertain time of the COVID-19 pandemic. As yet, no time has been established as to when the project will be reconsidered.
Before a new referendum would be re-scheduled, the City Council must again hold public hearings and go through a new approval process.
While I still consider the need for a new Milford police station real, with the referendum having been withdrawn, I feel the question is now a moot point for this election.
Spillane: YES, I support construction of a new police station. At this time, I feel we should revisit the how, when, and where we will pay for this construction. We have been working on this decision for over 10 years. If we started putting money aside back then, now we wouldn’t have to borrow as much money if any. If we take a loan from ourselves it won’t hurt residents. Remember our per capita income is only $26,445 (2018, U.S Census Bureau). This additional tax will hurt a large number of residents.
Q: Do you feel City leaders have responded adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic? Are there things you would have done differently?
Boyle: Initiatives to effectively handle a challenge with the scale and the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic is beyond a city’s limited capabilities and requires state and national governments to take the lead with local governments serving in supporting rolls. Yes, I feel that Milford’s city leaders did adequately respond to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the COVID-19 outbreak first emerged in Delaware, and prior to the first case being reported in Milford, the City administration (the Mayor, City Manager, Police Chief and City Clerk) was already developing and implementing plans to continue providing city services during should the COVID-19 outbreak further evolve. The first concern was for the safety of the City’s employees and their families. Next was to develop a phased staffing plan to deal with the evolving emergency while also maintaining essential services even if at a reduced level.
The City also took the initiative and reached out to Bayhealth Hospital, the School District, the Carlyle Fire Company, and the Delaware Department of Health (DDH) to establish a collaboration to share information and coordinate any supportive actions needed to deal with unknown effects as the pandemic emergency evolved.
The City has also been participating in virtual meetings with the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the DDH and various other state agency heads on a regular basis receiving updated status of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, and an open exchange of questions and ideas with other Delaware mayors and State officials. The City administration also conducts frequent calls with surrounding towns to keep informed on evolving conditions in Kent and Sussex counties.
When the DDH first began testing poultry workers in Milford, City representatives were on-site with the DDH personnel who performed tests on the workers at the local Perdue processing plant where a significant number of cases were identified. Since then the City has kept in close contact with the DDH monitoring this and the surge in poultry worker cases, as well as the status of infections and deaths at the Genesis long term care facility.
To help alleviate some of the economic hardships Milfordians are experiencing through stay-at-home orders and the rising unemployment rates the City has withdrawn the April 25th referendum for a new police station, and deferred the proposed rate increases for water and sewer. The implementation of a reduced electric rate schedule will also provide additional relief.
Spillane: We have a huge responsibility to our citizens to provide guidance and security when faced with the crisis like COVID-19. We must cooperate with federal and state governments to enforce the decisions made and be ready to help any member of our city who need our help. Perhaps our city could use the senior patrol and our automated phone system to check in on our citizens. I have many elderly friends which I have checked on, went to the store for them and spent many hours talking on the phone offering a sense of security to help calm them. Perhaps our city could use the senior patrol and our automated phone system to check in on our citizens.
When we have succeeded in overcoming COVID-19, we should be ready to move forward in a positive fashion and encourage our citizens to do the same.
Only voters who live in Ward 1 and have registered to vote with the City of Milford, are eligible to vote for either Boyle or Spillane. Registration to vote in state or federal elections does not qualify residents to vote in City elections.