A workshop was held for Milford City Council in order to review the final version of the FY2021-22 budget. The final version discussed on June 7 will be presented for vote on June 14 at the regular council meeting. It includes a tax increase of $0.02275, less than the initial proposal of $0.065 as well as the phasing out of the use of Realty Transfer Tax (RTT) to fund the Milford Police Department over the next five years.
“This is pretty much the bare bones that the budget can handle,” Mark Whitfield, City Manager, said. “There are some concerns because we are balancing the budget using American Rescue Fund money which is not sustainable. Those will be paid out at some point in the near future. The other thing looming is that we are still in negotiations with the police Teamsters Union. We do not have a settlement yet, so any increase there will need to be factored in as well. We are undergoing a wage and compensation study right now and I believe we are going to see a recommended increase in our lower levels so that we can recruit and retain employees.”
According to Lou Vitola, Chief Financial Officer, staff reviewed the budget closely to see where areas could be consolidated. They also determined areas where grants or other funding could be secured to remove them from the budget.
“One thing we just received was guidance on the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA),” Vitola said. “In reviewing the eligible areas where we can use the funding, we found that the majority of it could be used for some of our larger water and sewer projects, especially the lead service lines. We may also be able to use some of the funds to help citizens who may be struggling due to the pandemic, for instance with sidewalk repairs.”
In addition to the water, sewer and assistance projects, Vitola explained that the city may be able to use the funds toward the Behavioral Health Unit for the police department, a $50,000 cost that so far has not yielded any grants. Funding for various community organizations, including DMI, Carlisle Fire Company, the Milford Library and the Milford Museum could also be covered by ARPA funding. Councilman Dan Marabello asked if there was a reduction to DMI now that they no longer had a paid employee after the resignation of Cat Perfetti recently. Whitfield stated that funding for the organization was at $45,000 the same as the previous year and did not include the increase they requested earlier in the year.
“DMI is a vital organization,” Councilman Todd Culotta said. “But shouldn’t we look at what we give them now that they have no paid employees? I see their value and I know their request was more than normal because of rent, but maybe we need to be looking at other organizations, such as the Chamber, who add to the economic growth of Milford. I don’t want to come across as if I don’t support DMI, because that is not the case. But, since we are talking about a tax increase, we really need to take a deeper look at this.”
Vitola explained that for the FY2021-22 budget, there would be no impact in reducing community organization funding as it would be covered by ARPA funding, but suggested that council keep that in mind for the FY2022-23 budget.
“This has been a good experience and it has helped me learn,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “Everything has been very transparent, and we could see everything in real time. I totally appreciate what Mark, Lou and the rest of the staff have done in helping us understand this process. We are trying to take into consideration all the residents of Milford as well as our employees as they are people, too.”
Whitfield explained that once the budget was approved, information would be provided to property owners indicating how the tax increase would impact them based on their assessed value. Vitola indicated that the property tax increase could average around $3 per month for the average property.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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