City Council completes budget hearings

Terry RogersGovernment & Politics

City Hall Milford, DE

After hearing a brief overview of the FY2021-22 budget on Monday, Milford City Council returned to discuss each section of the budget in detail on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 18 and 20. The budget proposal, which totals $47.7 million, an 8.43 percent increase from FY2020-21, includes a potential 14.13 percent tax increase as well as a possible rate increase for solid waste.

Much of the budget increase was due to personnel, including raises for current employees as well as funding for additional staff. City administration plans to hire a new administrative assistant to remove workload from the current City Clerk and her assistant.

“I am told we need to get someone in and trained as there may be a retirement coming up by the end of next year,” Mark Whitfield, City Manager, said. “We have also added some technology costs to add live streaming to meetings held in City Hall. We are working at getting our Zoom meeting recordings posted on the website so anyone can access them at any time.”

Lou Vitola, City Financial Officer, explained that the budget also included a request for increased funding for Downtown Milford, Inc. The organization requested just over $54,000 up from around $45,000 the previous year.

“When they presented this request to us, I asked them if they were getting PPP funding and I believe they answered that they did before and had applied,” Councilman Jason James said. “I thought we were leaning toward not increasing now that we had the new economic development director, and we were talking about phasing this out.”

Councilman Andy Fulton and Mayor Archie Campbell agreed with Councilman James.

“I know we discussed it, but I don’t think we ever decided,” Councilman Todd Culotta said. “I do think that the underlying idea of creating the new economic development director was to pull from other areas of economic development. I think DMI is an important organization but increasing right now is not feasible.” Vitola explained that he noted no action was taken on the request, so the additional funds were left in the proposed budget. He indicated the amount would return to the previous year’s amount in the final draft of the budget.

Another additional employee was proposed for the Planning Department. Rob Pierce, Planning Director, explained that the new employee would assist with permitting issues since the city saw an 81 percent increase in permits issued over the past year. There is also an open position for a building inspector that the city is trying to fill currently.

Chief Kenneth Brown explained that increases in his budget were also related to personnel. The Behavioral Unit that is showing promise in the city began with a budget of $20,000 and the chief anticipates needing $50,000 to continue offering the program.

“The clinician we have now is doing a great job, but she is only available for limited hours,’ Chief Brown said. “We are hoping to bring on the one from Smyrna as they have not funded that position in their department yet. Clinicians with the experience necessary are difficult to find. I am also requesting $14,000 for a canine unit, but just today learned of a grant that may cover that.”

FY2021-22 will be the first year that the funds for the five new police officers approved would come from the reserves, Vitola explained. Chief Brown stated that he is currently looking for two officers, but with several employees out due to illness, injury or for other reasons, he is actually down seven officers at the present time.

“I simply cannot do without any of my officers,” Chief Brown said. “We are having shootings every single day. I would like to have some patrols on foot in certain areas, but I just don’t have the resources. I would definitely oppose any suggestion of elimination officer positions.”

Mayor Campbell pointed out that Delmar was short-staffed and one of their officers was just killed.

“I am glad you addressed this,” Councilman Fulton said. “I wanted you to be very clear and succinct. I hold public safety very dear to my heart, so thank you for addressing this so clearly. You have the possibility of actually being down ten officers and you need usable staff in dangerous situations. I thank you for the job you are doing to keep us safe.”

Several other council members echoed Councilman Fulton’s words.

“I appreciate your support,” Chief Brown said. “I often brag about that to other chiefs that I have a council and a community behind me. Getting the referendum passed at this difficult time was a clear indication that our community supports us. I often say in news releases that the citizenship stands behind us and that means a lot to us.”

Public Works Director, Mike Svaby, explained that the biggest increase in the streets budget was related to operating expenses as materials and delivery costs continue to rise. Solid waste operating costs have increased as well due to more people remaining at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are seeking a superintendent and three linemen right now in electric,” Svaby said. “We have a career path for linemen where they start at the bottom and move up. When we hire, we send them to linemen school that costs about $2,000 a week for two sessions each year for four years. They then spend time as an apprentice before they can work alone. There is a high demand right now for linemen who can work alone with salaries that are very attractive, so it can be difficult to find staff.”

Svaby explained they are also looking for an additional garage mechanic to create a safer environment as well as to cover overlapping shifts and perform more services in-house. Svaby stated that almost all engine work is done in the garage with things like body and transmission work sent to an outside contractor. The city considered using apprentices from local high schools but felt that a full-time employee was more feasible as they did not want to retrain someone each year.

City Council will review and discuss the budget on Monday, May 24 when it may be approv

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