City Council Steps Up Utility Bill and Tax Collection Actions

by Terry Rogers

 

 

City Hall Milford, DE

On Monday, November 9, Milford City Finance Director Lou Vitola reported that the City of Milford currently has $479,078 in delinquent property tax accounts. Of those accounts, $249,788 were for years 2019 and prior while $229,290 was for the current year.

“The Billing and Customer Service Department continues to collect past due balances,” Vitola said. “We have monitored the accounts based on the Modifications to the Governor’s Declaration of a State of Emergency, assisting customers by offering extended relief plan, providing information on COVID-19 relief funds and referring them to charitable resources to those customers who are experiencing hardships related to the pandemic. We have begun the disconnection process for utility customers who have shown no attempt to establish a payment plan or have sustained periods of non-payment.”

Milford property taxes are due September 30 each year and Vitola explained that escalated collection efforts were underway to deal with severely delinquent property tax accounts. As of the date of the meeting, severely delinquent accounts have grown by $9,000 since September 14, bringing the balance of excessive delinquencies to $34,252.

“A few years ago, we began using the monitions process to deal with delinquent property taxes and that process was working well,” Vitola said. “There has been a lull in that process, somewhat related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are now trying to get back on track. We have begun sending 30-day notices to those who are delinquent in hopes that they will reach out to make payment plans or choose other options to bring their account up-to-date.”

Mayor Archie Campbell expressed concerns about the increase in delinquent property taxes.

“This is what happened before,” Mayor Campbell said. “When I was on Council, I had a mild heart attack just about when I saw that we had over a half million in delinquent property taxes. Some of these were accounts that had been left alone for 10 to 15 years. I understand we are in a pandemic, but I think it is not fair to those who do pay their taxes. I don’t want to get to where we were before.”

Vitola agreed, pointing out that when delinquencies were allowed to occur, the City may need to transfer funds from reserves which could deplete those accounts. High utility and tax delinquencies could also lead to a tax increase to cover operations which is something the City wanted to avoid as much as possible.

In addition to discussing delinquent utility bills and property taxes, City Planner Rob Pierce proposed that Council vote to deny a proposal to place an apartment building along the Riverwalk. The proposed structure met with significant resistance from the public as well as members of Council who preferred using the space for public recreation.

“Although the mixed-use development was included in the Riverwalk Rebirth Plan, an update to that plan a few years ago, the Downtown Roadmap Plan, showed the area as open space,” Pierce said. “In several discussions with Council, it was apparent that the consensus was to leave this area as recreational space. Therefore, we are asking Council to deny the proposal for the apartment building at that location.”

The request was approved unanimously.

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